Somewhere in Massachusetts, there’s a young delegate getting ready to attend the state Republican Convention. Just like me all those years ago, she’s fired up to make a difference in the world. She holds traditional Republican values — small government, fiscal responsibility, individual freedom. She has faith that, at least in Massachusetts, the Republican Party will focus on issues that really matter to young voters, including unemployment and high costs of living.
And she’s about to be sorely disappointed.
Last month, the Republican State Committee mirrored the out-of-touch politics that have swept Congress and Republican state capitols by voting to insert language against safe, legal abortion and marriage equality into the party’s platform.
I’ve been a member of the Republican Majority for Choice for decades. With 34 years of service, I’m the longest standing member of the Republican State Committee. And I know the platform vote isn’t representative of most Massachusetts Republicans.
It could be worse. Just look at a state like Texas, one of many where Republicans have cut off access to basic health care for women, including birth control and cervical cancer screenings. These same lawmakers seem determined to go back to the time when abortion was neither safe nor legal, a time I remember all too well.
But striving to be better than Texas on women’s health is a low bar — and it won’t be enough to energize young Republicans who want the Massachusetts GOP to show the rest of the country how Republican values of individual freedom and personal responsibility extend to a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions.
At a time when the party should reposition itself to make a big impact in this year’s state elections, activists are fracturing our party by prying into the personal lives of Massachusetts residents. Supporting women’s health was a winning strategy for US Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren. Warren was elected with an historic 20-point gender gap. Most of this year’s gubernatorial candidates, along with 73 percent of Massachusetts voters, support safe and legal abortion. Equally important, six in 10 Millennials in the United States believe abortion should be safe and legal.
Make no mistake: the Massachusetts GOP is at risk of losing voters.
Voters must feel welcomed by state Republicans, no matter what the platform says. Delegates and candidates alike should speak out at the convention and throughout the elections to oppose these out-of-touch ideologies.
Support for women’s health doesn’t have to be an exception to the rule in the Republican Party — and it hasn’t always been the divisive issue it is today. I still wear my “Republicans for Choice” pin that Planned Parenthood passed out at the 1984 Republican National Convention.
Access to comprehensive sexuality education, family planning, and insurance coverage for contraceptives aligns with traditional Republican values of fiscal responsibility. Unintended pregnancies cost American families $11 billion a year. But, for every dollar invested in federal family planning, taxpayers save more than $5. President Richard Nixon exercised fiscal responsibility when he signed into law the national Title X family planning program, an important milestone of which today’s Republican lawmakers and candidates should take note.
Republican candidates for state legislative and statewide elections should seize the 2014 election cycle as an opportunity to reach voters by partnering with organizations like Planned Parenthood and adopting policies that protect women’s health, empower students with comprehensive health information, and appropriately meet the needs of the 300,000 Massachusetts women who rely on our state’s family planning programs. And if they really want to demonstrate a commitment to Massachusetts’ young people, Republicans should champion the repeal of an arcane law still on Massachusetts’ books that restricts birth control to married couples.
Public statements at the convention should be the start of a lasting shift in the Massachusetts Republican Party to return to its roots as an institution that respects a woman’s right to make her own personal medical decisions, and that welcomes young people and women’s health supporters.
Massachusetts voters demand better from us as a party. Supporting women’s health is not just good policy. It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s the path to victory in 2014.
Nancy Luther is a Republican state committee member from Topsfield.