The 54 Percent: Issue of abortion misrepresented in debates

By Aliza Harrigan
On October 16, 2012

I was not alone in being troubled by many facets of the Oct. 3 presidential debates. But what concerned me most was the fact that, in all the quibbling over Obamacare and government spending, in a domestic policy debate, not once was abortion or Planned Parenthood brought up by the moderator or addressed by either candidate. We cannot ignore the fact that these topics weigh heavily on the minds of Americans right now, especially women. Their silence on this issue was conspicuous. 

The vice presidential debate last week was barely an improvement. When moderator Martha Raddatz asked Ryan and Biden about abortion, she did so with barely 10 minutes of debate time remaining. And she framed the question in terms of their personal beliefs - how, she asked, did they reconcile their identities as Catholics with "[their] own personal views on abortion?" Raddatz was supposed to be asking the questions voters have about the candidates' plans for policy should they gain office. My overwhelming concerns about this issue were not addressed: Will Planned Parenthood lose funding or continue to be subject to TRAP laws. Will women lose access to the vital services it provides? Will women retain the right to choose to have an abortion?  Instead, we got to hear about how two men reconcile their faith with their political beliefs. It felt like a token mention to appease concerns that women's issues were being ignored. An opportunity to force the candidates to take a stand either for or against the rights of women was wasted on a throwaway question about what amounts to personal trivia as the debate was winding down. 

Romney's stance on abortion and Planned Parenthood has been vacillating so quickly that I hesitate to quote him here lest he negate himself tomorrow. But actions speak louder than words, and the fact that he chose to share a ticket with Paul Ryan, a man who has co-sponsored 38 anti-abortion bills - including some that do not make exceptions for cases of rape, some that supported it only in cases of "forcible rape," and some that denied emergency abortions to save the lives of mothers - articulates Romney's position much more clearly than he appears to be capable of. 

When examining the phrasing of Raddatz's question, and the rhetoric on the subject in general, it is clear that abortion becomes an intensely charged emotional issue that is often discussed in emotional terms. And this is true not only to those holding up signs featuring graphic pictures of fetuses - the potent fear that pro-choice women feel about a predominantly male legislature making decisions about what women can and cannot do with their bodies can be just as emotional. But I think it is important to cut through this to the facts. We must see Planned Parenthood and abortion as separate issues. 

In our political culture, which seems to favor reducing complex ideas to buzzwords, Planned Parenthood has become shorthand for abortion. But the majority of the services Planned Parenthood provides are not abortions. The organization offers routine physicals for both men and women, male and female infertility screening and referral, testicular health screenings, outreach information about breast cancer, as well as mammograms and biopsies - essential, vital services for people who can't afford to go to the doctor because they have no insurance or bad insurance, or are at personal risk and need the confidentiality. And no matter what your personal beliefs on healthcare are, you must acknowledge that in our current system, there are many people who fall through the gaps. And these people rely on Planned Parenthood and other such organizations.

Planned Parenthood clinics that provide abortions are legally separate entities from those that do not, and federal funding only goes to those that do not. And those clinics that provide abortions do not "advocate" abortion - they simply help women evaluate their options and make an informed decision. Should the mother decide to carry the fetus to term, they provide prenatal care and counseling. The people who tell you your tax dollars are supporting abortion are misleading you, and they are doing it on purpose.

Paul Ryan answered Raddatz's question with an anecdote about seeing his daughter for the first time in an ultrasound. In part this is the fault of a flawed question, but Ryan was deliberately evading the heart of the matter. He knows the answer to the question millions of Americans have is not that he calls his daughter "Bean", and it bothered me that he won't look us in the eyes and defend his voting record. It was Joe Biden, although he stumbled at first, who made the reaffirmation of women's rights that I, and many other women, had been waiting to hear. "I - I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that - women they can't control their body," he said. "It's a decision between them and their doctor."

This is a sensitive topic. There are very few people who feel ambivalent or indifferent about Planned Parenthood or abortion, and politicians are concerned that a hard-line stance on this issue will polarize voters. But I believe it is important that we address the topic directly and logically. We do not all share personal beliefs, and we must create legislation that protects our natural rights and is based on reason rather than emotion.

Very soon, voters will have to make a decision. And I hope they get to make it based on a platform clearly articulated by politicians who aren't afraid or ashamed to tell the American people what they plan to do. 




Aliza Harrigan is a junior political science major and English minor. The 54 percent denotes the percentage of the UNH student body that is female. 

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