At Large

Women and the bishops in US polls

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WHO MADE Barack Obama win a second term, what many called a “second chance,” as US President?

A wire report attributed his victory to a coalition of “Hispanic, African-American and young voters.” But Nancy K. Kaufman, a blogger for “Politics Daily,” wrote a day before the elections that the “deciding demographic of this year’s election” was women.

“Tomorrow all eyes will be on women,” Kaufman wrote. “And although we women have been casting ballots for more than 90 years now, we are getting special attention this year as all candidates understand that the gender gap could well be decisive.” It is a gap decidedly in the Democrats’ favor, as more than 60 percent of women polled said they would vote for Obama, and apparently the majority of women sent their favor Obama’s way.

“So here’s a look at what’s on many of our minds,” she wrote, enumerating the major issues as: health care, pay equity, reproductive rights, and the “social safety net programs that families and seniors depend on.”

“The landmark achievement for women’s health is the last several years is surely the Affordable Care Act,” declared Kaufman. “For the first time in legislative history, reproductive health care and access to contraceptives are treated by the federal government as an integral part of women’s health care. Benefits under the new law include contraceptive services without co-pays, annual well-woman visits, preventive screenings for breast and cervical cancer, and screening and counseling for interpersonal and domestic violence.”

Despite the euphoria, Kaufman cautioned, “women know that these gains are by no means secure.” In the last two years, she noted, “the House of Representatives voted several times to repeal the new healthcare law. Not only is reproductive health care under the Affordable Care Act at stake, but new legal attacks on Roe v. Wade will likely make their way to the Supreme Court in the next session. The survival of Roe is imperative if women are to make our own moral and religious decisions regarding pregnancy in consultation with our doctors and whomever else we choose.”

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BUT it is not only women’s health and reproductive rights that were at stake for American women in the vote last Wednesday (Tuesday in the United States). Other matters, like “laws regarding employment discrimination, affirmative action, economic regulation, and religious liberty,” likewise have and will continue to have an impact on women’s lives. “While women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar paid to a man doing similar work, employment protections for women have already been curtailed by the current Supreme Court.”

Kaufman noted that “because of the persistently lower wages earned by women, women and children are particularly at risk when food programs are slashed. That is why, especially in the light of the economic downturn, maintaining the social safety net is a key priority for women.”

As in the Philippines, women in America are the de facto caregivers for the very young and the very old in their families. That is why health care subsidies, known as Medicaid in the United States, “is on women’s minds, too.” Said Kaufman: “Medicaid now not only provides health care to 39 million people in low-income families, but it also ensures long-term care coverage for over 13 million elderly and persons with disabilities, including over six million Medicare beneficiaries—a large majority of them women.”

Kaufman’s final words of advice: “For those candidates looking to court women voters, focusing on the survival of programs that keep food on the table, provide medical care, ensure a fair and equitable workplace, and give women the deciding voice in their own reproductive health care choices is a good place to start. And to be heard by those candidates, we women must speak up, make our votes count, and ensure that whoever governs, from state capitals to Capitol Hill and the White House, is held accountable to us.”

Let’s hope it’s not just the victorious Obama and the Democrats who’re listening to women, but also the Republicans, who, with their control of the House and state governments, could very well punish American women for the “gender gap.”

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ON ANOTHER note, Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, issued a statement congratulating Obama for winning a second term, adding that the group looks forward to working with his administration for another four years.

“During the campaign we heard the President reassert his commitment to women’s reproductive health,” added O’Brien. “Catholics across the country share this commitment, and reject the interference of the US Catholic bishops in politics and in women’s healthcare decisions and access.”

Though American bishops and religious leaders were quite vocal on the issues of abortion and family planning, O’Brien noted that “American Catholics rejected the bishops’ politicking and 50 percent put their support behind Mr. Obama and Mr. [Joe] Biden, reflecting the polling that showed the majority of Catholic voters saw no obligation to vote as the bishops demanded.”

Added O’Brien: “With the mandate of the American people behind him, we are anxious for the President to finish the work he began… While there have been significant and important advances since Mr. Obama took office, there is much work yet to be done, and millions of women in America will be watching to make sure their voices are heard after the election is over.”

Obama himself said in his victory speech in Chicago that the work is far from over, and that active citizenship must be employed to make sure the victors stay true to their word and mandate. But with the usual gridlock in Washington in place, that will take some doing.

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