Democrats had one overarching message at a rally Friday: Barack Obama is for free contraception and abortion rights, and Mitt Romney isn’t.
“When it comes to the economy, it’s bad enough that our opponents want to take us back to the failed policies of the last decade,” Obama said at George Mason University Friday morning. “When it comes to a woman’s right to make her own health care choices, they want to take us back to the policies of the 1950s.”
Fewer than 2,000 Obama supporters piled into a small concert hall in the middle of campus, including about 100 female supporters sitting on risers behind the podium.
And as if to make the point, every speaker (save the president and another) was a woman. A female Iraq war veteran led the Pledge of Allegiance, a female pastor said an invocation, a woman (and self-described “Republican for Obama”) sang the national anthem, and two female Organizing for America volunteers offered brief remarks. So did Eileen Filler-Corn, a Democratic state delegate in Virginia who made sure to highlight the state assembly’s recent high-profile legislation (never signed into law) defining personhood as starting at conception.
The only two male speakers, in fact, were the two principal candidates: Obama and Virginia Senate candidate Tim Kaine, the former governor who is facing former Republican senator George Allen.
“My opponent was asked about some of his, frankly, extreme views on issues relating to women’s health,” Kaine said, adding that Allen referred to those as “social issues” he wasn’t interested in discussing. “I gotta tell you, as a husband and father, I know that what we’re referring to aren’t just women’s issues or social issues. They’re family issues and they’re economic issues.”
Kaine listed off “equal pay for equal work” legislation, the Family and Medical Leave act, and “access” to birth control and preventive cancer screenings as examples of Democrats’ commitment to women.
“President Obama and I support these strongly and will fight for them,” Kaine said. “Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and my opponent oppose them.”
Next came Katherine Waddell, a former one-term independent state delegate, to introduce the president. The pro-choice Waddell was once a Republican but says she left the party because of its conservative positions on abortion. “There’s just no room for me in today’s Republican party,” she said.
“I grew up before Roe v. Wade,” Waddell said, noting that the fortieth anniversary of the Supreme Court decision on abortion will be two days before Inauguration Day in January. “I won’t let [Romney] take my daughters and my granddaughters back in time.”
Waddell also added, referring to his comments in Wednesday’s debate, that Romney “wants to shut down Sesame Street,” prompting a short-lived chant of “PBS! PBS!” from the crowd. She once again mentioned Roe, reminding voters that Romney called the decision “one of the darkest moments” in the Supreme Court’s history, before Obama walked on stage.
The president hugged Waddell and said he was “so proud” to have her support. But for a rally that was heavy on abortion politics, Obama avoided the subject of “women’s issues” until toward the end of his address. He touted the new unemployment rate as the “lowest” since he took office (although he failed to mention the actual rate of 7.8 percent.)
“We’re moving forward again,” Obama said to cheers.
He also obliquely mentioned the Wednesday debate. “My opponent’s trying to do a two step,” Obama said, adding that Romney “got an extreme makeover.”
Obama also hit hard on Romney’s promise to cut funding to public television. “When he was asked what he’d actually do to cut spending and reduce the deficit, his big example is to go after public television,” he said as the crowd laughed and applauded. “So for all you moms and kids out there, don’t worry. Someone is finally getting tough on Big Bird. Rounding him up. Elmo has got to watch out, too. Governor Romney plans to let Wall Street run wild again, but he’s going to bring down the hammer on Sesame Street. It makes perfect sense.”
Another chant, louder this time, of “PBS! PBS!”
Finally, the president got around to talking about women’s issues, particularly how Obamacare provides sexual health services for reduced costs or even at no costs for consumers.
“This law has secured new access to preventive care like mammograms and cancer screenings with no copay, no deductible, no out-of-pocket cost for more than 20 million women,” Obama said to increasingly loud cheers. “And now most health plans are beginning to cover the cost of contraceptive care, which is vital for women’s health. Doctors prescribe contraception not only for family planning, but as a way to reduce the risk of ovarian and other cancers. And it’s good for our health care system in general, because we know the overall cost of care is lower when women have access to contraceptive services.”
Obama then offered an ostensibly conservative critique on Romney’s record on women. “There’s nothing conservative about a government that prevents a woman from making her own health care decisions,” he said. “Governor Romney talks about freedom, but freedom is the ability to determine the care you need, when you need it. Freedom is the ability to change jobs or start your own business without the fear of losing your health insurance. Freedom is the knowledge that you’ll no longer be charged more than men for the same health care, or denied affordable coverage just because you've beat cancer.”