Source: XINHUA | 2012-3-2 | ONLINE EDITION
WASHINGTON, March 1 (Xinhua) -- A coalition of women's groups in the United States on Thursday launched an initiative to highlight women's voices in this year's election cycle, as social wedge issues such as contraceptives heat up in political debates.
The initiative, called HERvotes, centers on health, economic and rights for women, and aims to mobilize women voters in 2012 to preserve and advance women's equality and reframe the debate to include "a women's lens on the issues." More than 50 women's organizations are behind the initiative.
Byllye Avery, co-founder of Raising Women's Voices for Health Care, said during a Washington briefing with reporters that in this election cycle, women's health rights are "under attack at both the federal and state level," with reproductive rights the " bulls' eye" in such attacks.
"Women will not be silent," said Avis Jones-DeWeever, executive director of National Council of Negro Women. "We know what's at stake and we will act."
Access to contraceptives has evolved into an election-year firestorm in recent weeks, with the Obama administration under attack for mandating religious employers to offer female employees contraceptive coverage in its healthcare reform. Earlier this month, however, it reversed course and announced that religious employers would not be required to offer free birth control to workers and the responsibility would instead go to insurers.
Church leaders have dismissed the compromise as a gimmick, and the administration continued to be pummeled by Republican presidential candidates. Roy Blunt, Republican Senator from Missouri, introduced an amendment to an unrelated highway bill that would exempt employers from providing employees free birth control coverage on moral and religious grounds. The bill is expected to be defeated Thursday in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Democrats argued that it was too broad, and maybe used in denying coverage on cancer treatments and other preventative treatments.
In highlighting those issues, both parties have made alliances with special-interest groups, from religious and anti-abortion groups for Republicans, to physicians, nurses and health-related charities for Democrats.
Lisa Maatz of American Association of University Women, said women's groups are campaigning to highlight the issues. She said her group has raised over 1.5 million dollars to target young women in 15 key election states, to "make sure the powerful voting bloc is making an impact in the election cycle."
She cited the defeat of Rick Santorum on Tuesday in Michigan GOP presidential primary, saying exit poll showed he performed badly against the winner, Mitt Romney, among women voters in that state. Santorum's remarks on gender and contraceptive issues have created controversy, and was criticized as extreme.
According to Rutgers University' Center for American Women and politics, women's vote make up the majority of votes cast in general elections since 1964, and over half of them tend to vote for Democratic candidates.