By PAULINE ARRILLAGA, Associated Press
DENVER (AP) — Wanda Ramey stood on the University of Colorado campus, cane in one hand, "Close The Pay Gap" sign in the other. The rally for equal pay among women in the workplace was the 65-year-old spitfire's second stop in a day of meetings and protests.
A registered independent, Ramey's top priorities this election year aren't necessarily directly related to the "war on women" that Democrats have accused Republicans of waging. She worries about the future of her grandchildren, their education and whether they'll find jobs one day.
But when she read about a proposal in Virginia to mandate a vaginally invasive form of an ultrasound before an abortion, she emailed friends to sound the alarm. And when she learned of the equal pay protest, she decided, broken pelvic bone and all, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with dozens of other women, sign held high in the air.
"Men are talking about my uterus? I have a voice. I can talk," she said. "And I think that's what they're finding out."
Everybody, it seems, is talking about women in this campaign — what they should do, how they should act, who they should be in society. But do women see themselves reflected in the dialogue — or is the mirror of political rhetoric distorting their concerns? How, exactly, is all this talk about women playing among women?
You could hear these issues play out on a recent day in this key presidential swing state — first, at the equal pay protest, but later at a hotel near Broncos stadium, where five conservative women led a panel discussion to strategize about reframing the rhetoric and working to woo more women voters to their camp this year. There was passion, but there was also irritation. Some women said talk about contraception was a distracting sideshow; others said the preoccupation of some politicians with abortion showed they were out of touch.
"They really must not know what exactly is going on," said a university student with friends who've had both babies and abortions. "They" are the male politicians who still outnumber women at all levels of elective office, but also the two men running for president who keep trying to one-up each other in reaching out to this vital, but hardly monolithic, voting bloc.
The upshot: Whether seen as real or manufactured, something about the so-called "war" is resonating among American women who could well make the difference on Election Day. Many are acting out and speaking up. Many are, in fact, girding for battle, in one way or another.
As Ramey put it: "They've woken a sleeping giant."
Glimpse a few Facebook pages these days, and you'll find an abundance of exasperation. There is the "Angry Conservative Women" page, which insists: "The only war on women (and on freedom) is being waged BY THE LEFT!" Then there's "One Million Pissed Off Women," which warns: "We have HAD IT. ... We are no longer willing to be compromised or thrown under the bus."
It all follows four months of headline-making salvos that, to some women at least, have begun to feel like a bombardment of sorts. Think: Susan G. Komen ending cancer-screening grants to Planned Parenthood (quickly reversed). And disputes over laws designed to protect women against wage discrimination (Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker last month signed a repeal of his state's equal pay law, while a U.S. Senate candidate in Michigan called a federal equal pay law a "nuisance.")
And there's the ongoing fight over abortion. After Republicans made historic gains during the tea party-driven "red tide" of 2010, abortion was back on legislative agendas with a vengeance. In 2011, 24 states enacted a record 92 provisions restricting access to abortion services in some way, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights organization that tracks such proposals.
This year dozens more provisions were introduced in state legislatures nationwide. A measure in South Carolina, for example, would eliminate a woman's ability to get an abortion through the state health plan if she's a victim of rape or incest. Georgia and Arizona have banned most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy; Utah increased to 72 hours the waiting period required before an abortion; Mississippi now requires doctors performing abortions at a clinic to be a certified OB-GYN with admitting privileges at a local hospital.