As President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney prepared for their first presidential debate of the election season on the University of Denver campus, liberal and conservative women in Colorado portrayed differing messages on what issues are important to them in the fall election.
The progressive side of the political spectrum held a rally on the Auraria Campus on Tuesday afternoon — one day before the debate — calling on the candidates to support such women’s issues as birth control and the right to choose. On the Republican-leaning side, the Colorado Women’s Alliance on Wednesday morning said it is not contraception, but the economy that women care about.
The rally on the Auraria Campus — spearheaded by Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Planned Parenthood Votes in Colorado and held inside St. Cajetans Church — included Cecile Richards, the national president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, and Vicki Cowart, chief executive of Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado, among others.
One supporter named Emily Jakobson, dressed as birth control pills, danced to a ditty called “Pillamina.”
“Ho, ho, hey, hey. Planned Parenthood is here to stay,” chanted others in the crowd.
The audience was also told to “Ask Mitt,” by texting questions for Romney to answer about family planning and other women’s health care issues.
“We want to ask him a few hard questions,” said Cowart. “Like, where will women in Colorado go for their breast health care and cancer screenings if he gets rid of Planned Parenthood? Where? And how about, why do you want to interfere in decisions that a woman ought to be making with her doctor and her family and her religious beliefs alone. Why do you as a politician want to be interrupting in that conversation?”
Richards, who is also the daughter of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, told The Colorado Statesman before the rally that she believes there have never been more stark differences between candidates in a presidential election.
“I don’t remember an election in which the differences on basic women health care issues were so stark,” she said, adding that if Romney is elected he could stack a conservative U.S. Supreme Court that might overturn Roe v. Wade, a landmark 1973 decision on abortion.
“Mr. Romney has pledged to turn back the clock not just four years, but really more like 50 years,” said Richards.
She had the support of DeGette, the co-chairwoman of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus. The congresswoman blamed Republicans for stalling important issues in Congress by focusing on wedge social issues such as birth control.
“You can imagine my shock when I woke up one day last year, and I had thought I was in the 21st Century, but apparently that wasn’t true because the very first thing that the Republicans did when they took control of the U.S. House was they introduced a bill to ban federal funding for birth control,” said DeGette.
Bennet agreed, pointing to a recent transportation bill in the U.S. Senate that Republicans attempted to amend in order to allow insurers to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage over religious or moral objections.
“I’ve finally figured out why this Congress has a 9 percent approval rating,” Bennet said. “Maybe it’s be-cause we’re talking about contraception in the context of a transportation bill instead of passing a transportation bill.”
Hickenlooper said his mother was always a supporter of Planned Parenthood, which is something she passed along to him.
“In the end, it has to be, it absolutely has to be the decision of the woman who’s carrying that child. You cannot take that decision away,” Hickenlooper said.
Republicans point to women and the economy
The Colorado Women’s Alliance, a Republican-leaning group, hosted an “I Care About the Economy” forum on Wednesday, at which several high-profile political and businesswomen discussed their priorities.
The event was moderated by former Republican Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, and included a panel consisting of state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, Lizzy Norris-Cohen, a media consultant at SDG Communications, Dr. Jill Vecchio, a radiologist who has become an expert on Obama’s health care law, and Molly Vogt, an investment advisor and director of My Purse Politics, an organization that asks women to think about financial issues facing them.
Before the forum, Alliance director Debbie Brown, made it clear that she is focused on the economy.
“We don’t think about birth control every day… we think about broader things like the economy and business and regulation and health care, issues that truly matter to us every day,” she explained.
Norton agreed, saying women voters in the battleground state of Colorado have a chance to turn the election around and focus it on jobs and the economy.
“We are concerned and care about the economy,” said Norton, who ran for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2010. “There’s been lots of scare tactics and pandering about this vote, and so we wanted to bring a forum together where we could actually talk about the issue that is No. 1 on the minds of women, and that is jobs and the economy.”