CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons via Stephen Melkisethian
The GOP is working hard to rebrand its “War on Women” image, particularly after the Supreme Court’s recent decision on Hobby Lobby has given Democratic candidates even more ammunition to wield reproductive health as an election issue. And as the New York Times reports, the right-wing players involved in that effort are working on reclaiming “women’s health” as a set of policies the GOP can actually get behind.
Birth control, abortion, and sexual violence are out. Osteoporosis — a bone disease disproportionately affecting women that can lead to fractures of the hip, spine, and wrist — is in.
“Women’s health issues are osteoporosis or breast cancer or seniors living alone who don’t have enough money for health care,” Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster who helps anti-abortion groups conduct research on women’s issues, told the New York Times. Conway is advising GOP candidates to challenge Democrats who use the term “women’s health” to refer to reproductive rights, pivoting the conversation back to brittle bones and breast exams. She also wants Republicans to avoid ever mentioning the word “rape.”
To be sure, osteoporosis and breast cancer are serious public health issues that plague millions of women. But in a national landscape that continues to be dominated by record-breaking numbers of abortion restrictions, gaps in family planning funding, botched sexual assault investigations, and insensitive comments about rape victims, it will likely be tough for candidates to avoid addressing any of the gender-specific reproductive health issues that female voters in swing states say are among their top priorities.
Lawmakers are already struggling with this dynamic. Last week, Republican Scott Brown, who is running for office in New Hampshire, reportedly “took shelter in the bathroom” to avoid answering a reporter’s questions about Hobby Lobby. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), a potential 2016 presidential contender, was similarly evasive. And Republicans in Congress are attempting to convince women they support birth control by introducing legislation that doesn’t actually do anything to change the way that contraceptive coverage currently works.
Planned Parenthood’s political arm, which plans to spend more than $18 million during the upcoming election cycle in at least 14 states where the group believes reproductive rights are vulnerable, doesn’t want to let those lawmakers get away with it. As part of its “Women are Watching” campaign, the reproductive health organization is running ads specifically targeting Republicans who support Hobby Lobby’s right to drop contraceptive coverage for their workers.
For Planned Parenthood Action Fund, it’s clear that talking about osteoporosis won’t be good enough. “We’re ready to fight back against lawmakers who want to ban abortion, block access to birth control, and strip us of the rights we’ve worked so hard to secure,” the group says on its website.
It’s been about a year and a half since the GOP first initiated its rebranding strategy to win back female voters, and so far, it hasn’t been going particularly well. Polling has found that the Republican Party has actually been losing women’s support — and politicians haven’t stopped making headlines for their controversial comments about women, even after taking several training sessions on how to avoid offensive statements.
Along those lines, GOP strategists are also calling for a serious shift in tone when it comes to talking about abortion, alluding to the fact that elected officials haven’t always demonstrated compassion toward women who choose to end a pregnancy. “It’s very important that we have candidates who are respectful when they talk about this issue and that they talk about it in a humane way. And I think that’s where the Republican Party has failed in a certain way,” Elise Stefanik, who recently won a Republican congressional primary in upstate New York, told the New York Times.