Women, Republicans and the rhetoric of ‘choice’

By Alexander Sanger
The Guardian, April 20, 2012

“What we want is women to be able to make their own choices […] We want women to make their own choices in healthcare … Women don’t need anyone to tell them what to do on healthcare. We want women to have their own choices, their own money, that way they can make their own choices for the future of their own bodies.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. But to my surprise, these were not the words of Hilary Clinton or Michelle Obama. Rather, they were uttered by Representative Michele Bachmann, on Sunday’s Meet the Press during a segment about Obamacare. And while I am sure these words made her press secretary cringe, they made me take note of the way the notion of “choice” has recently crept into Republican talking points.

Like Representative Bachmann, I do believe in the inherent right of all women to make their own decisions and control their bodies. Bachmann is not the first anti-choice politician to recently wade into the vernacular of choice and bodily integrity.

Last week on the Daily Show, correspondent Al Madrigal took a closer look at Oklahoma state senator Constance Johnson’s proposed amendment to the state’s “personhood” bill that would effectively outlaw the deposit of sperm anywhere outside of a woman’s vagina. When Madrigal interviewed Senator Ralph Shorty, the architect of the Oklahoma “personhood” bill, Shorty explained that he could not add Senator Johnson’s “Every Sperm is Sacred” amendment because “it would be a huge free choice issue. Basically, a government is telling a man what he can and can’t do with his body.”

Lately, the notion of choice has even extended beyond bodily integrity to (gasp!) the decisions women make about their professional lives. Responding to criticism about her lack of work experience, Ann Romney went on television last week to champion a woman’s right to choose to work or stay home, stating that we need to respect a woman “in all those choices that they make.”

Romney, Shorty and Bachmann hit the nail on the head: we should respect the choices that women and men make about their bodies and their lives. If you support a woman’s right to choose, that includes her right to choose to work, to take contraception to delay pregnancy, to end an unintended pregnancy and to abstain from sex altogether. All of these are decisions that women have the right to make – as Senator Shorty suggested – without government interference. And none can be supported in isolation.

The word “choice” resonates throughout the entire political spectrum. It has to do with liberty and freedom, the basic principles of democracy that modern-day Republicans defend day in and day out – as long as it doesn’t have to do with sex or reproduction. The problem is that Republicans, sensing the loss of moderate women because of their attacks on Planned Parenthood funding, are now overzealous in the usage of the word “choice”, but acutely selective in applying its principles when it comes to women. I am pretty sure most women would agree that you can’t have it both ways. Women know that they are better at making choices for themselves than any government ever would be.


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