The Differences Between congressmen’s and congresswomen’s communications about abortion

During the summer before my junior year at The George Washington University, I interned at the U.S. House of Representatives.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, as it allowed me to develop a much deeper knowledge of the American political system and to enhance my understanding of the politics surrounding several varied issue areas—from Medicare to environmental policy, from transportation to financial services.  While I enjoyed cultivating this broad knowledge of policy areas, I eventually came to realize that one area held particular interest for me. 

One day, I was assigned to cover a briefing regarding an amendment that would essentially prohibit medical schools from including abortion training in their curriculums for students studying to be gynecologists and obstetricians.  The panelists at the briefing detailed the potentially disastrous repercussions of this amendment, including the possibility that a doctor might be unable to assist a woman in danger due to a miscarriage.  I found myself wondering about the legislator that proposed this amendment: how would she, as a woman, respond to these arguments against her proposal?  How would she articulate her defense of it?  Would it be easier for a man?  How might his approach be different?

This experience inspired my research question: what are the differences between the manners in which congressmen and congresswomen in the 112th Congress have communicated about abortion?  I seek to discover whether there has been a “typical” way for men in this Congress to communicate about abortion or for women in this Congress to communicate about abortion. 

While the driving force behind my selection of this question was my curiosity, I strongly feel that it is crucial for Americans to understand as much as possible about their political leaders’ communications on this subject.  Abortion is an issue that many Americans feel passionately about.  As such, they might be particularly attuned to politicians’ communications on this subject.  I think that Americans ought to understand as much about these communications as they possibly can, so that they might draw sound conclusions based on them.  While I am excited to satisfy my curiosity about this question through my research, I also hope that I can make some contribution to this understanding that I consider so crucial. 

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4 Responses to The Differences Between congressmen’s and congresswomen’s communications about abortion

  1. johnadearborn says:

    I also interned in the House this past spring and remember noticing how much some congresswomen approached the issue of health care from a women’s rights perspective, particularly when discussing the impact of the Affordable Care Act. This issue really showed up during congressional disputes about the Health and Human Services Department’s mandate that insurance should cover preventive care services for women. So I’m really intrigued by your idea of comparing congresswomen and congressmen’s communications about abortion; your paper will be very interesting to read!

  2. ecs2153 says:

    I am also really interested in your idea. While my Presidential Fellows paper will be covering environmental issues, I am also currently writing my thesis where I plan to explore if PACs that deal with women’s issues (on both sides of the issues) give different amounts of monetary contributions to Congressmen v.s. Congresswomen. I think this is a really appropriate time to explore all of these issues relating to women and Congress for so many reasons that I could talk about for days! Regardless, your topic reminded me of an interesting piece, “Uncovering the Dimensionality of Gender Voting in Congress” by Noelle H. Norton, which brought to my attention a really interesting concept. She explains that when Congressional voting is analyzed, it is generally done so one dimensionally, although this she believes is actually not how Congress votes when it is considering legislation regarding women’s issues. She provides in her paper a quasi-feminist theory that explains that there are two dimensions used by Congressional members, or in other words, voting cues that help them make decisions on legislation that directly affects women. While I know you are not examining votes, maybe this article can help you with this paper. I just thought it was such a gem so I had to share it.

  3. sbmmoxie says:

    This is a great take on a polarizing debate. It is great that you are looking at the debate’s effect on female leaders separately from the actual topic or outcome of the debate. I really like your approach and look forward to reading your paper.

  4. leonard.horne says:

    I’m just going to echo what my fellow…fellows have posted above. This is certainly a fascinating topic and one that I have heard much discussion about throughout the summer. I particularly remember Michigan Congresswoman Lisa Brown being banned from speaking for a day in the state house as a result of using the word “vagina” in a discussion about abortion (what compounds the major irony factor here is the fact that this effort to ban her was led by men).

    I think the issue of parochialism in politics and the subtle (and overt) attempts by men at justifying the rejection of opinions given by a female politician on issues that affect women directly is one that certainly merits discussion if we are to ever move forward on gender inequities in our country in the future. Even more fundamental in my opinion is the importance of recognizing women as the authorities on women’s issues and lending even more creedence to their ideas as such. Todd Akin’s comments only underscore that men should let women decide what is best for issues that concern them exclusively and directly.

    I look forward to reading your paper! Perhaps you could even expand the scope of your research to include perspectives of women on other issues (e.g. after school child care, glass cielings in corporate america and how our policies perpetuate them etc).

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