Women's Rights at Stake: Why Iowa Feminists Should Caucus for President Obama

American women face a stark choice in the Iowa caucuses: re-elect feminist President Barack Obama who has advanced equality or caucus for a Republican who pledges to roll back generations of progress. 

By the time California (where I chair the state Democratic Party's Women's Caucus) will cast votes for president, the primary race will already be all but over, so my hope is that Iowa caucusgoers plant a flag for womens rights now when the race begins. What happens in Iowa will say a lot about how American presidential candidates believe they must campaign to capture the feminist vote in November 2012.

Feminism -- equality without apology -- knows no partisan bounds. Women across the philosophical spectrum make our own choices about our families, our careers, and our politics. But in order to keep the freedom to make those choices, women need feminist leaders at the helm with policies that advance our progress. More important than identity politics are the feminist policies that allow women to make progress. When we look key indicators like economics, health, patriotism, and leadership, American voters have a clear choice: progress for women from President Obama's policies or repeal and reversal by his opponents. 

On economics, the president's Recovery Act saved or created 3.5 million jobs, extended credit to women-owned small businesses, invested in STEM (science technology engineering and math) jobs, and kept women cops on the beat, teachers in the classrooms, first responders at the ready, laborers repairing crumbling infrastructure, and providers delivering essential services to our most vulnerable. From signing the Lilly Ledbetter Act to promoting pay equity to protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits, President Obama has promoted feminism in the workplace and protected retirement with dignity. His Republican opponents including Congresswoman Bachmann opposed ALL these measures, and rejected a budget deal that would cut spending yet pay out the benefits working women have earned. As we know, all raised their hands pledging to walk away from an economic plan with a 10:1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases making the prospects of job creation quite dim. With Mitt Romney's vow to veto the DREAM Act, immigrant students who came to America through no fault of their own would have fewer opportunities to become productive members of society.

On health, consider the president's strong voice for choice from overturning the Reagan-era Mexico City policy to promoting family planning in the Affordable Care Act. Healthcare reform means that being a woman is no longer a pre-existing medical condition: women can no longer be denied care via gender discrimination and we will have more choices in the exchanges that will states to innovate in expanding care. It also helps young Americans needing healthcare through Medicaid or their parents, including the over 600,000 young men and women under age 26 who have already signed up to receive or rejoin their parents' health plans. Patients in need of life-saving stem cell research have unprecedented access to protocols thanks to the Obama administration's science-based healthcare policies. 

Again, President Obama's Republican opponents, most of whom have enjoyed government-funded healthcare, want to repeal these reforms, depriving women of our reproductive freedom and our patients' rights. Republican candidates have raced to the right, out-pledging each other to repeal ObamaCare, end Medicare as we know it, defund Planned Parenthood and its 97 percent of non-abortion related health services, establish an anti-choice litmus test for presidential appointees, and the holiest of holy grails -- nominate an anti-choice juduciary to overturn Roe v. Wade. While the mainstream media has neglected to pursue which candidates stand with Rick Perry in his newfound opposition to abortion even after the horrific crimes of rape or incest, the New York Times reports that Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum signed a pledge to appoint only anti-choice officials to justice and health positions 
and, as Salon.com's Joan Walsh and Justin Elliott report, Mitt Romney no longer mentions the family member whose death from an illegal abortion allegedly inspired his then-pro-choice stance in 1994.  No Republican presidential candidate is a viable option for pro-choice voters of any political philosophy -- Democrat, Republican or otherwise.

When it comes to our patriots, President Obama has committed to bringing our troops home honorably safely and soon, ordered the withdrawal of our combat troops home from Iraq and promoted Reverse Boot Camps, Hiring Heroes Tax Credits, and unprecedented GI benefits so that our returning servicemen and women have the jobs, healthcare, and educational benefits they have earned. He repealed Don't Ask Don't Tell, enabling lesbian and gay patriots to serve openly in our armed forces. The institutional support from the administration as well as the personal advocacy work of First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden are critically important to all members of our military families, particularly the 1.5 million children whose parents have been deployed in service to America. So far, the Republican challengers who stood in silence while a GOP debate audience members booed a gay soldier have refused to support DADT repeal and opposed efforts to boost spending for veterans.

Feminist leadership includes appointing outstanding cabinet members Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to naming U.S. Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to working closely with women in Congress such as House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to nominating Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, President Obama has consistently expected and respected women at the leadership table. He has endorsed Sen. Dianne Feinstein's Respect for Marriage Act to end DOMA and signed significant hate crimes legislation. While we would hope the Republicans would appoint women leaders in similar numbers (Newt Gingrich said he would consider Sarah Palin for vice president or energy secretary), they have endorsed DOMA, oppose LGBT hate crimes legislation, and have staffed their campaigns with frightfully few women strategists and surrogates.

The Iowa caucuses will tell two very different stories about women in America: either we are capable of controlling our own bodies and planning our own families or we aren't. The choice is clear: with women's rights at stake, voters can caucus with Democrats and re-elect a feminist president or caucus with Republicans and roll back women's rights for generations. That is why I urge Iowa feminists male and female to caucus for President Obama.