Last August was the low point of the fortunes of President Obama and the Democrats.
I say this with scientific precision, based on two things. One: A friend of mine, who for years has been a loyal foot soldier in the local Democratic Party, suddenly wrote on her Facebook page that the party had better never call her again. For anything. Two: The same week, at a meeting of my quilting group, I heard myself say I didn't care if Romney became the next president—he'd apparently been an OK governor of Massachusetts, and, really, could he be worse than Obama? Several of my impeccably leftist quilter friends sadly agreed.
It's hard now to reconstruct the exact causes of our alienation. It had to do, I seem to recall, with the administration looking as if it might approve the Keystone pipeline, and with the White House's general helplessness in dealing with one of the most corrupt and dysfunctional Congresses in U.S. history. We were bummed, and reasonably so.
But that was the summer of our discontent, and this is the spring of our renewed loyalty. Any thought of sitting out the election fight is so over, because of one stunningly obtuse GOP move: Once Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail started bashing Planned Parenthood and gassing about restricting contraception, everything crystallized. Obama is totally our guy! The Right—under any name, behind any face—is absolutely the enemy! Sell me a bumper sticker, and sign me up for the phone banks! Every woman I know feels pretty much the same way.
Polls last month showed that female support for the president is up by nearly 20 points since last fall. And the numbers don't come close to conveying the fervor that's been awakened—the emotion that's running in the female electorate. You know all the chat about how the Democrats lacked passion, and needed a base as worked up and united as the evangelicals? Voilá—girls! Girls who've heard nice young women called sluts by the likes of Rush Limbaugh! All the president has to do to be our guy forever is to not go out and attack women's hard-won reproductive rights—which we know Michelle would never let him do anyway, even if he wanted to. The opposition has handed him an astonishing gift.
It might be mysterious to some men why this simple yahoo-bait issue has turned out to be such a hornets' nest. Allow me to explain: Tens of millions of American women love birth control and love Planned Parenthood. We love it not on ideological grounds, nor for abstract reasons, but because PP has helped us—and our mothers, our sisters, our daughters and our friends—when we most needed help, and with the most-important things in life.
My drama-free story is typical. I went to Planned Parenthood in Phoenix when I was 17 and had started sleeping with my boyfriend. I was treated kindly, professionally and affordably—the pill cost me $1 a month. To this day, I consider PP to have been a sort of founding partner in the happiest and most-successful aspect of my life: I have been pregnant once, and had my wonderful son when I was 26, married, in perfect health and longing for a baby. Every mother and child should be as lucky.
It has been otherwise for most women and children through much of history—a brutal fact that's apparently been easy to overlook or romanticize in the last few decades. Since so much seems to have been forgotten or maliciously distorted, here are just a few background tidbits: The mother of PP founder Margaret Sanger (who, by the way, retired to Tucson in the 1940s) was pregnant 18 times—producing 11 live children—in 22 years, before dying of tuberculosis and cervical cancer. As a nurse in the slums of New York in the 1910s, Sanger saw much suffering that was the direct result of "chronic pregnancy" during an era when it was illegal for doctors even to discuss birth control with their patients. Further, Sanger was motivated in her battle to supply women with birth control in large part because of her fervent desire to put an end to abortion.
Now that a generation of women is awake to the threat of losing what Sanger and so many others fought for, anything can happen. Because this matters to us. It matters very much.