MY VIEW/Cristina Page – McCain’s stumped speech

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Like many Republican women, Carly Fiorina, McCain’s adviser, wants McCain to be something he’s not. This week Fiorina misspoke about McCain’s record on contraception claiming he supports requiring health insurers to cover contraception as they do Viagra. She assumed, as most voters do, that he’s pro-birth control, pro-prevention. Up until now, women voters hadn’t yet pegged McCain as the copy of George W.

Bush he is, at least on reproductive health issues. But McCain’s fumbling answer to the question “Do you support contraceptive coverage” proved he’s John McSame. “I don’t usually duck an issue,” he said ducking the issue.

In fact, the Straight Talk Express has skidded off the road that most Americans drive. He is more extreme than even some who consider themselves “pro-life.” For example, most Americans would be stunned to learn McCain won’t –or can’t– say whether he even supports the right to use contraception. Last March, McCain fumbled through an exchange about his position on contraception with a reporter aboard his campaign bus. McCain said, “You’ve stumped meAre we on the Straight Talk express? I’m not informed enough on it. Let me find out. You know, I’m sure I’ve taken a position on it on the past. I have to find out what my position was. Brian, would you find out what my position is on contraception.”

McCain finally admitted “the guy I really respect on this is Dr.
Coburn.” The Coburn that McCain has chosen as his mentor on all things reproductive is Senator Tom Coburn R-Oklahoma which is like having the Taliban head up the Office for Women’s Initiatives. (Think that’s an extreme comparison? Keep in mind Coburn supports the death penalty for abortion providers.)

One story about McCain mentor Coburn is particularly telling. Coburn, in recent years, led a sneaky offensive against the cond-m. In 1999, Coburn drafted legislation mandating that cond-m labels state that they cannot prevent the transmission of HPV. In 2000, at Coburn’s request, the National Institutes of Health, the FDA, USAID and the CDC hosted a meeting of experts to compile and examine the effectiveness of cond-ms in preventing transmission of STDs.

In its report, the panel explained the difficulty in making definitive conclusions based on the available studies and explicitly cautioned anyone from using the report to discourage condom use. On cue, Coburn reacted as if the CDC’s careful wording proved his case.  Somehow he managed to conclude that the government was covering up for “cond-m pushers.” Coburn joined anti-cond-m groups to call for the resignation of the director of the CDC.

Sadly, though McCain often appears to be the palatable Sunday talk show conservative, the good-humored, apparently moderate Republican, on reproductive rights he’s a lot like Coburn. Down the line, positions will leave even the middle-of-the-road reader wondering if we can really afford more of the same.

When asked about his position on reproductive rights, McCain advised, “I think the important thing is you look at people’s voting record because sometimes rhetoric can be a little… misleading.” And there’s no truer statement. McCain’s voting record, which NARAL Pro-Choice America scrupulously tracks, is telling. He has consistently voted against contraception. McCain voted to end the Title X family planning program which is the only way millions of Americans have been able to plan their family. Title X has also been heralded as having prevented more than nine million unwanted pregnancies in the last two decades and lowering the teenage pregnancy rate by 20%.

McCain helped defeat legislation that would have required insurance coverage of prescription birth control. He’s an unapologetic proponent of the failed abstinence-only approach as well. He voted against making “abstinence-only” programs medically accurate (the most authoritative study found that more than 80% of abstinence-only curricula, used by more than 2/3 of federal recipients, contains false, misleading, or distorted information.)  He also wanted to take
$75 million from the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant to launch an abstinence-until-marriage program that prohibits sexually active teens from learning about birth control. He tried to route one-third of all HIV/AIDS prevention funds to the completely ineffective “just say no to sex” programs.

It’s clear; Iraq is not the only unpopular war Bush started that McCain hopes to continue. The war on Americans’ sex lives is another and McCain has already proven himself a good, loyal general.

Cristina Page is the author of How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and the War on Sex (www.prochoicemovement.com) and spokesperson for BirthControlWatch.org

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