Dana Milbank
Dana Milbank
Opinion Writer

The GOP’s vagina monologue

When will Republicans stop their vagina monologue?

March is federally recognized as Women’s History Month, and Republicans have been celebrating the occasion in a most unusual style: with a burst of interest in women’s private parts.

Dana Milbank

Dana Milbank writes a regular column on politics.

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The Republican presidential candidate flip flops on the anti-contraception bill.

The Republican presidential candidate flip flops on the anti-contraception bill.

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On Thursday, the Senate took up an amendment proposed by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that would allow employers to deny women birth-control coverage if the employer found contraception morally objectionable.

About 100 miles south of Washington on that same day, Virginia legislators passed a measure requiring a woman to be offered an ultrasound image of her fetus before aborting it. The legislation, which opponents say could also require some women who have miscarriages to be offered ultrasonic images of their dead fetuses, is the successor of a bill that would have required women to undergo an invasive “transvaginal ultrasound.”

Still on Thursday, the industrious Virginia House of Delegates also approved legislation bestowing rights on people, including a father, to bring a lawsuit over the death of the fetus.

On Wednesday, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, a powerful influence among Republican lawmakers, described as a “slut” the law-school student invited by House Democrats to testify in support of birth control. “It makes her a prostitute,” Limbaugh said of the woman, blocked last month by House Republicans from testifying on what became an all-male panel. “She wants to be paid to have sex.”

On Tuesday, Oklahomans held a protest at the state capitol to oppose a bill, passed by the state Senate and now being taken up by the House, that would bestow “personhood” on fetuses — one of many such efforts across the nation. Democrat Judy McIntyre, one of just four women in the 48-member state Senate, was so upset that, according to the Oklahoman newspaper, she held a protest sign proclaiming: “If I wanted the government in my womb, I’d [expletive] a senator.”

Democrats think they have a political winner in the Republicans’ fascination with reproduction at a time when economic production is what voters have in mind. The party is raising money with a petition against the “Republican War on Women,” and 11 Democratic women running for the U.S. Senate are using the occasion to launch a fundraising tour.

They are attempting to tie together everything from last year’s effort to defund Planned Parenthood to the proposed repeal of Obamacare (which expanded coverage of mammography and birth control). And Obama campaign strategists tell me they are confident that the two leading Republican presidential candidates, a Mormon and a devout Catholic, will have difficulty beating the rap that the party is obsessed with reproduction.

Evidence that the Republicans realize they’re in a pickle: Mitt Romney spontaneously flip-flopped on his initial opposition to the Blunt amendment, which would also provide employers with a moral opt-out from other elements of Obamacare. Romney first said that “questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman, husband and wife, I’m not going there.” But he quickly reversed himself in favor of the amendment, aligning himself with Rick Santorum, who has voiced doubts about the constitutional protections for birth control.

More evidence: After championing the Blunt amendment, Republican leaders backed away from their demands for a vote on the provision. And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), an early proponent of the amendment after hearing about the issue during a Catholic Mass, disappeared from the debate. So Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) wound up forcing a vote on the provision, which was narrowly defeated Thursday afternoon.

“Today, the Senate will vote on an extreme, ideological amendment to the bipartisan transportation bill,” Reid said, kicking off Thursday’s debate. “This amendment takes aim at women’s access to health care.”

The Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell (Ky.), made no mention of birth control in his reply, countering that “it is not within the power of the federal government to tell anybody what to believe, or to punish them for practicing those beliefs.”

Most other Republicans followed McConnell’s lead in avoiding mention of contraception. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (Utah), however, said the provision in the health-care law requiring preventive medical coverage for women is “questionable policy,” and he accused the administration of “deferring to its feminist allies” by mandating contraceptive coverage.

After the amendment went down to defeat, its sponsor gave a General MacArthur. “I’m confident this issue is not over,” Blunt said. “It won’t be over until the administration figures out how to accommodate people’s religious views as it relates to these new mandates.”

The monologue will continue.

danamilbank@washpost.com

 
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