December 14, 2011
Women played a huge role in propelling President Barack Obama to victory during the 2008 elections, supporting him more strongly than men by seven percentage points. His record on women’s issues as president, however, has been spotty, and major women’s rights organizations are warning that if he makes the wrong decision on birth control coverage in the coming weeks, it could cost him the election in 2012.
Many progressive women’s groups who supported Obama throughout his campaign and presidency felt betrayed last week when, without any warning, his administration decided to overturn the recommendation of the Food and Drug Administration and limit access to Plan B One-Step, a popular emergency contraception pill. Whether or not the president had anything to do with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ decision, the fact remains that he promised in 2009 that his administration, unlike that of President George W. Bush, would “make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.”
Americans of all demographics overwhelmingly support access to birth control, which is why the Plan B decision especially surprising to women’s health advocates and has severely dented his support among them. Although progressive women still perceive the GOP candidates’ positions on the issues they care about as more damaging, the problem, they say, is voter enthusiasm.
“I think the women of this country are not disappointed, they’re infuriated,” Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, told HuffPost. “I’m gonna tell you the truth — we’re supporting President Obama as a means to get better alternatives. It’s not like we think he’s great for women, but we know we need to move in that direction, and frankly in this moment women must be engaged and must be mobilized to vote for the candidate that is a stepping stone toward real equality, even though there’s no candidate that represents that now.”
“The Plan B decision was a missed opportunity for Obama to strengthen his record on women’s reproductive issues,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “As we’re looking at 2012, we have a key segment of women’s voters, and it’s our job to show them the clear difference between President Obama and the alternatives. The decision last week makes it harder for us to do that.”