Romney’s Policies Put American Women in a Bind

October 18, 2012

This column on Gov. Mitt Romney’s positions on women’s issues is by AFSCME Sec.-Treas. Laura Reyes.

AFSCME VotesThe late Texas Gov. Ann Richards once famously said of George H.W. Bush, “Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”

I was reminded of that while watching the next GOP hopeful for the presidency, Gov. Mitt Romney, dissemble and stumble his way through an answer about pay equity for women posed to him during Tuesday’s debate at Hofstra University. It would have almost been amusing if it didn’t betray the ignorance or disregard that Romney, a multi-millionaire corporate raider, has for the realities America’s working women face each day on the job.

A young woman participating in the town hall-style debate asked how Romney would rectify the fact that working women make only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn. He ignored her question and instead described how as governor of Massachusetts he supposedly sought out women for his cabinet.

“I went to my staff, and I said, how come all the people for these jobs are — are all men? They said, well, these are the people that have the qualifications. And I said, well, gosh, can’t we — can’t we find some — some women that are also qualified?

“And — and so we — we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, can you help us find folks? And I brought us whole binders full of — of women.”

It turns out that Romney was lying about seeking out those now infamous binders full of women. In fact, a bipartisan coalition of women’s groups came together before Romney was even elected and compiled a file on women qualified for cabinet positions and leadership positions throughout state government. They gave it to him before he ever asked for it.

Hard to imagine, but Governor Romney’s answer actually went downhill from “binders full of women.” Continuing to ignore the young woman’s question about pay equity, he proposed that employers should let women have flexible schedules so they can go home in time to do things like make dinner for their families.

Romney is more concerned about American women getting dinner on the table than he is about them getting paid equal pay for equal work. Cook your own dinner, Governor Romney.

America's working women don't need patronizing suggestions. We demand and deserve equal pay for equal work, something that Pres. Barack Obama supported when he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as his first act in office. In Tuesday night’s debate, President Obama said that equal pay “is not just a women’s issue. This is a family issue. This is a middle-class issue. And that’s why we’ve got to fight for it.”

By contrast, Mitt Romney's campaign once said it would "get back to" the American people about whether Romney supported the act’s equal pay protection. It was clear during Tuesday’s debate that Romney still has no answer.

That evasiveness wasn’t lost on me or the more than 54 percent of AFSCME members who are women. We are home care workers, nurses, 911 dispatchers, clerical professionals and so much more. And we know that equal pay is directly connected to economic stability for our families and the American economy. When it comes time to vote, we won't forget Romney's refusal to acknowledge our rights.

We also won’t forget that President Obama has championed women’s health at every opportunity. When his Affordable Care Act went into effect this summer it benefitted 47 million women by requiring insurance companies cover in full preventative services such as annual well-women visits, contraception, screening for gestational diabetes, testing for HPV, breastfeeding support, supplies and counseling, and screening and counseling for domestic violence.

Romney’s response? He said he’ll repeal the Affordable Care Act on his first day in office. He’s also targeted federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides life-saving cervical and breast cancer screenings, contraception and sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment for three million women annually. “We’re going to get rid of that,” Romney said of Planned Parenthood. As governor of Massachusetts, he repeatedly vetoed funding for breast and cervical cancer screenings and research, and rape victims’ access to emergency contraception. During the GOP primary in 2008, he said he was “not familiar with” the Violence Against Women Act.

Romney may not be familiar with the laws that protect and empower women’s financial and physical health, but we are and we’re ready to fight for them.

Across the country right now, tens of thousands of AFSCME women are knocking on doors, phonebanking and rallying for President Obama due in part to his support for equal pay for women, access to quality, affordable health care for all, and reproductive freedom for women. We’re not alone. Millions of women are volunteering for the President and will propel him to victory as we did in 2008, picking him by a 13-point margin over his competitor.

Those kind of numbers will put Governor Romney in quite a bind come November 6.

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