Let’s talk about the Republican presidential candidates … and women.
Not the fight about who has the prettiest wife, which truly tops the latest list of Things We Never Thought We’d See in a Presidential Election. That was the dust-up in which Donald Trump tweeted an image of his wife, Melania, a former model, next to a rather unflattering picture of Ted Cruz’s wife, Heidi. Cruz called Trump “a sniveling coward” and delivered a stirring tribute to his spouse that would have been even more moving if it had not been lifted from the 1995 film “The American President.”
He also said, “Trump may be a rat, but I have no desire to copulate with him.” There was no indication what that meant, but it definitely did not come from an old Michael Douglas movie.
This was also during the week in which Cruz accused Trump of having his “henchmen” plant a National Enquirer story alleging that Cruz might have had five secret mistresses. Stories suggesting that conservative politicians have had affairs do not come under the heading of Things We Thought We’d Never See, so we will let that one go and move on.
To the issues: One thing that all these guys have in common is a desire to put themselves in charge of the reproductive rights of the entire female half of the country. Trump used to be pro-choice, but he “evolved” at some undisclosed point in the 21st century. Ted Cruz opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest. John Kasich is willing to allow a troubled teenager to get an abortion if she’s seduced by her father, but not if the seducer is the next-door neighbor. This is why Kasich’s the moderate.
Everybody knows you can’t believe in abortion rights and win the Republican nomination. But then the candidates ought to be eager to make family planning services accessible, right? The best way to reduce abortion is to limit unwanted pregnancies.
Cruz made his position on contraception clear while campaigning in Iowa. It’s so charming that I am going to quote it in full: “Last I checked, we don’t have a rubber shortage in America. Look, when I was in college, we had a machine in the bathroom; you put 50 cents in and voilà. So, yes, anyone who wants contraceptives can access them, but it’s an utterly made-up nonsense issue.”
Women whose family planning needs go beyond a vending machine will have to fend for themselves. Cruz is opposed to requiring employers to include contraception in their health care plans. He hates Planned Parenthood so much that he wanted to shut down the federal governmentto end its funding. Said government funding pays for contraceptives as well as myriad other health services, none involving abortion except for the part where the contraceptives help avoid unwanted pregnancies.
John Kasich isn’t much different. His state has been in a war against Planned Parenthood that has closed down health clinics, cutting off everything from family planning to programs for at-risk expectant mothers. Kasich has said that there are “many different entities” that can take care of the women who were cut adrift. Last year, legislators who supported the defunding put together a list of those entities. They turned out, on second glance, to include senior centers, dentist offices and a food bank.
This is a crisis situation. States around the country have been stripping Planned Parenthood of Medicaid funds, leaving low-income women to fend for themselves. In Texas, women who used to have access to efficient methods of birth control like injectable contraceptives are showing huge jumps in pregnancy rates. On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill effectively defunding the clinics in Florida.
The only Republican presidential candidate who has acknowledged the invaluable role Planned Parenthood plays is Donald Trump. (“Millions and millions of women – cervical cancer, breast cancer – are helped by Planned Parenthood.”) Of course, he’s also said that it should be defunded. (“I mean if you look at what’s going on with that, it’s terrible.”) And when asked if he would be willing to shut down the government in pursuit of the cause, Trump declined to answer “because I want to show unpredictability.”
This is exactly where we wind up on so many issues, people. Two Republican candidates take clear, consistent, terrible positions. Neither Cruz nor Kasich has made any effort to come to grips with the health care services poor women would need if Planned Parenthood closed up shop. And they’re doing everything they can to make sure that the unwanted pregnancies that follow can’t be terminated.
Trump seems more open, sort of. Except it’s the openness of a large, vacant pit with an issues-pendulum careening wildly, smashing from one side to the other. On the subject of women, all we know for sure is that he thinks his wife is a real looker.
And the campaign is a man’s world.