Several local and statewide Democratic candidates — both in interviews and during the Hill County Democratic fundraiser Pasma-Peck Dinner Friday — have taken issue with statements made in Havre last week that the Republican actions being called a “war on women” is false.
Republican Judy Martz, Montana governor from 2001 to 2004, headlined a “What War on Women? ” forum in Havre Sept. 10 in which she said the war on women is fictitious, completely made-up.
Pam Bucy, Democratic candidate for state attorney general, said in an interview that although she is seeing actions that seem to try to restrict women’s access to services, she thinks the solution is for people on both sides of the aisle to work together.
“I don’t really like the divisive language of ‘war on women, ’” Bucy said.
But, she said, it is very disturbing to hear pregnant women compared to pregnancy-tested cattle in the Montana Legislature, hearing a U. S. Senate candidate talk about “legitimate rape, ” watching attempts to repeal Montana’s unisex insurance code that prohibits coverage or premium rates being based on gender, and an attack on women’s access to contraceptives.
Others did not have a problem with the term, first raised by pundits this election cycle to describe Republican actions and proposals.
“What is that saying? If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck (and quacks like a duck), it is a duck? ” asked state Sen. Kim Gillan, D-Billings.
“As I talk to women, they do feel it’s a war, and they just are perplexed. They’re perplexed and concerned as to why all of these seemingly anti-women policies are being brought up, ” added Gillan, who faces Republican candidate Steve Daines of Bozeman in the race for the seat in the U. S. House being vacated by Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont.
Rehberg is challenging U. S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., in his race for re-election.
Karen Sloan of Havre, retired nurse and director of Family Planning in Hill County, who is challenging state Havre Republican Rep. Wendy Warburton in her bid for re-election, took the issue a step further, citing Republican attempts to cut programs like Head Start and Medicaid.
“It’s not necessarily a war on women, it’s a war on people who labor and would like to enjoy the basics of life, ” she said, adding that attempts to cut women’s services “does, then, make it so women have to work harder. ”
Retired Montana State University-Northern professor Brenda Skornogoski, who is challenging Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, in her bid for re-election, questioned bringing Martz to talk on the issue.
“I have a serious question of the credibility of having Judy Martz speak about there not being a war on women, ” Skornogoski said, citing a speech Martz made in Butte in 2001 in which the governor reportedly said, “My husband has never battered me. But then again, I've never given him reason to. ”
“I think when she made that statement she minimalized domestic abuse and didn’t really recognize problems that women in particular have, ” Skornogoski said, adding that those problems are not confined solely to women.
But, Skornokoski said, “She diminished the dangers of domestic violence and belittled domestic-violence women in that statement. ”
Several Democratic candidates cited actions by Republican candidates, including gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill voting to cut funding for programs providing birth control while he was Montana’s U. S. representative in the 1990s and his opposition to abortion including in cases of rape or incest, as well as his support of repealing Montana’s unisex insurance code.
They also pointed to votes by Rehberg to cut funding for Title X, which provides money for Family Planning clinics and his votes against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay for Women Act, and the House not taking up the Senate-passed version of the Violence Against Women Act, as well as work by Rehberg they characterized as attempts to weaken that act.
Sloan also cite an attempt by the 2011 Montana Legislature — vetoed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer — to send $4 million in Title X funding back to the federal government.
“Because we didn’t need Family Planning clinics, we didn’t need contraception for low-income women, we didn’t need breast exams for women who couldn’t afford to go to the doctor, we didn’t need cancer screening, they just thought they would send this money back, ” Sloan said. “The governor, then, of course vetoed it, but that bill did pass in our Legislature, and it would appear to me that that was certainly a war on women.
“I know that there are probably some people in our community who think that Family Planning is unnecessary, and it would behoove those people to speak to some people who have had family-planning services in our own community, ” Sloan added.
Much of the discussion by Martz and by Ronnalee Skees, wife of state auditor candidate Rep. Derek Skees, R-Whitefish, at the Sept. 10 forum revolved around abortion.
Both Gillan and Skornogoski said there is more to the issue than abortion.
Skornogoski said she opposes abortion — she advocates adoption in the case of an unwanted pregnancy — but that women still should have that option. But the question of a “war on women” is much deeper, she said, including issues like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, gutting Title X funding, cutting funding for contraceptives, and so on.
“Frankly, I think that’s more of an issue than abortion … abortion is a big concern to a lot of people, but it (also) is things like health care screenings, cervical cancer screenings, ” she said.
Gillan made similar comments.
“We’re talking about a range of preventative health care services, ” she said. “It’s simply not just about abortion. ”
She said for women to be productive in their families, at their job and in their communities, they need access to health care services — and with many unemployed or underemployed and without health insurance, the government services are necessary.
She said another issue she is hearing about is that women want to have something to say in the discussions on the issues.
“As I travel across the state, women share with me they want more of a voice in Washington and to have a voice on the issues that affect them, ” she said.
Gillan added that she is hearing people say they can’t understand why the proposals are being raised.
“These are kind of basic women’s health issues that most of us feel were resolved 20, 30, 40 years ago, and people are questioning why they are being brought up now when we thought they were resolved, and with such intensity, ” she said.