George Will's statement that Ebola has gone airborne wasn't his only false claim this weekend. Less scary but no less ludicrous was his latest column -- "In Colorado, overheated rhetoric from 'Mark Uterus'" -- which adds to a growing canon of political punditry that insists that women's health is a made-up political issue. And like his alarmist assertion about Ebola, it requires a only a passing acquaintance with facts to know that women face real threats to access to abortion and affordable birth control.
Ignoring Will's column would be a kindness, but it's part of a larger effort lately to buttress the politically motivated contention that abortion and birth control are not under legislative assault in the United States. By turns overly glib and subtly mendacious, Will's column reaches that foggy conclusion by describing the Colorado Senate candidate Cory Gardner only by seeing what he'd like to and not what exists in reality.
Will and I can agree that Gardner is "cherubic and ebullient," but if Gardner is, as Will describes, "a human sunbeam whose unshakable cheerfulness is disconcertingly authentic," then Will has identified the only thing about Gardner that remains authentic. The notion sold by Gardner and many other anti-abortion candidates is that they pose zero threats to women's health. This makes as much sense as the Red Sox rooting for the Yankees, but Will swallowed it whole.
The crux of Will's argument is twofold: One, Gardner now says he supports over-the-counter birth control. Right now, thanks to Obamacare women get birth control covered with no copay, saving them a total of $483 million in a year. Gardner has voted several times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would do away with the mandate to cover birth control. But Gardner also claims his birth control plan would be "cheaper" for women who now have no copay, a contention PolitiFact stated was "mostly false."
Will also notes that Gardner is now "making amends for formerly" supporting personhood measures that "might preclude birth control technologies that prevent implantation in the uterus of a fertilized egg," breezily dismissing attacks for "endorsing [actually, co-sponsoring] similar federal legislation that has zero chance of passage." Gardner has repeatedly insisted that this legislation Will describes does not exist. In this small, inadvertent way, Will tells the truth.
Co-sponsoring legislation that would outlaw abortion even in cases of rape and incest should be enough to prove the case that this candidate constitutes a clear and present danger to women's health, but Will brushes it aside as "this slender reed" upon which rests the argument against Gardner. In this, Will resembles the climate denier who claims a February snowstorm disproves global warming.
If only that were all the evidence: Three times Gardner voted to defund Planned Parenthood. Twice he has co-sponsored federal personhood bills. Reasonable attention spans do not permit a full listing of all his votes and sponsorships to limit access to abortion and contraception, and without the Senate to stop them, Gardner's votes might have resulted in laws.
In many states, women have had no such luck. Since the Tea Party wave in 2010, more legislation restricting abortion and birth control passed than in the previous entire decade. Women are not, as Will brusquely writes, being "panicked into voting about mythical menaces to these things." The threats are not only real. In many states, they are law.
Whether women turn out to vote in the midterms will determine control of the Senate as well as several key governorships. Women have told pollsters that they regard threats to their access to abortion and birth control very seriously, about as much as their economic security. In fact, women see abortion access as inextricably linked to their financial well-being, according to a new poll. Gardner and other candidates have an interest in insisting that there is no legislative assault on access to abortion and birth control. Women know better.
Will does not, or at least he writes that way. The danger of Will spouting uninformed medical opinions about Ebola on Sunday morning TV is that he needlessly scares people. The danger in writing around facts like he does in his column about Gardner is that he misinforms voters about the real threats facing abortion access. If allowed to stand unchallenged, his column could do lasting damage by misinforming women voters right before the midterms, but maybe that was the whole point of writing the column in the first place.