Politics & Policy

Senator Not-Everywoman

Whatever she tells you during the Alito hearings, Dianne Feinstein is not the embodiment of American women's attitudes.

Pssst. . . just between us. I have arranged to have the following speech slipped into the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing room and placed in a Republican senator’s leather portfolio in the hope that he will mistakenly read it aloud during his next turn before the cameras.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I would like to join my colleagues in thanking you, too, for your admirable leadership of this committee as we confront one of our most consequential responsibilities as United States senators. I listened very closely, as I always do, during the important remarks of my esteemed colleague from California [insert empty, obsequious comments about what a terrific senator and all around wonderful person Dianne Feinstein is]. Senator Feinstein reminded us that she is the only woman serving on this august committee and explains that she feels the heavy responsibility of representing women during these confirmation hearings. I hope to relieve her of the extraordinary responsibility that so troubles her. I am happy to tell her that she actually doesn’t have the burden of representing fully half of our population, in addition to her formidable responsibilities in representing our most populous state.

I trust that this is welcome news to her. If she did represent American women, she would be in quite a pickle–having to vote on both sides of every issue that comes before us. In fact, there is no monolithic women’s position on public policies and no monolithic “women’s issues.” The senator is doing no more or less than the rest of us–representing our own constituents–male and female.

Every election season we see the diversity of opinions among women. In 2004, while my esteemed colleague John Kerry carried the overall women’s vote by 3 points, he lost white women by 11 points and married women without college by 16 points. The majority of these latter women voted for the pro-life candidate in the race. President Bush carried married voters with children by 16 points. In fact, the marriage gap has been bigger than the much-hyped political gender gap since pollsters started measuring it.

When Senator Feinstein pledges not to support the nomination of any candidate for the Supreme Court who doesn’t pledge to uphold Roe v. Wade, she is at odds with the opinion of the majority of American women. Roe v. Wade permits abortion throughout the entire nine months of pregnancy with no meaningful restrictions. When polls purport to show majority support for this decision, respondents are under the mistaken impression that it only permits abortion during the first trimester. Polls routinely pose the question with this false description of what Roe v. Wade allows. A large majority of the public supports restrictions, like a ban on partial-birth abortion, that Roe v. Wade has been held not to allow.

Even the suffragettes, our earliest women’s-rights activists whose legacy the modern women’s movement claims, were opposed to abortion. Alice Paul, the author of the ERA, saw it as “the ultimate exploitation of women.” Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton agreed that abortion was “child murder.” Like millions of women today, these activists did not believe that women’s equality rested on abortion rights.

A 2003 poll by the Center for the Advancement of Women, headed by Faye Wattleton, an ally of Senator Feinstein’s from her days as the celebrated president of Planned Parenthood, found that 51 percent of women would only allow abortion in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother. Another 17 percent of women wanted to see abortions more widely available than that, but with more restrictions. So, that survey found 68 percent of women disagreeing with Senator Feinstein’s position on abortion.

You will find similarly disparate views on issues like affirmative action. Millions of women don’t see why their husbands and sons should be discriminated against because their grandmothers weren’t permitted to vote. Mothers object when a law intended to eliminate discrimination against their daughters in education programs is transformed into a law demanding discrimination against their sons in college sports.

Respecting the choices of women as she continuously professes she does, I trust that Senator Feinstein will respect the opinions of the millions of women who disagree with her by recognizing that she is not the embodiment of American women’s attitudes. Such modesty would suit the colleague I so enjoy serving with. The light tells me that my time is up and, hopefully, so too is the time when women were viewed as simple-minded creatures who could be expected to hold monolithic views.

Kate O’Beirne is the author of Women Who Make the World Worse: and How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military, and Sports.

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