Kiron Skinner Wants You to Stand With Newt

A black female campaigner for Gingrich challenges the notion of a GOP problem with women voters.

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Courtesy of Kiron Skinner

From a political perspective, it's been an eventful Women's History Month as debate over women's health has continued to bubble up in state houses and Congress, as well as on the presidential campaign trail.

Last week alone, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed a bill requiring women to undergo an abdominal ultrasound before abortions, and Texas enacted a law that bans Planned Parenthood clinics from participating in a Medicaid family planning program (leading the federal government to end the program in the state, and leaving approximately 130,000 low-income women without health care access).

After the Obama administration's February decision requiring insurance companies to offer contraception to employees of religious-affiliated institutions (but not forcing employers who object for religious reasons to be involved), an infamous House hearing presented arguments against the birth control mandate without letting any women testify. House Republicans went on to introduce the Blunt Amendment, which would allow all employers to deny coverage of any medical treatment or services to which they object for any moral reason. The amendment was killed in the Senate this month.

Collectively, these measures have drawn harsh criticism from Democrats, many of whom characterize this political moment as a "Republican war on women." In a statement released this month, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel wrote, "This Republican majority is intent on denying women access to contraception ... If Republicans succeed with their radical agenda, they will have undone the historical achievements that this Women's History Month honors and cherishes."

Responding to "War on Women" Charges

But a surrogate for a new constituency group under the Newt Gingrich campaign, specifically designed to woo women, says that the "Republican war on women" narrative (and the questions it's raised about whether Republicans can win over women voters in November) is a distorted product of hype and hyperbole.

"At least from the perspective of Speaker Gingrich, the issue is about government control, not about a woman's right to choose what's best for her health care," Kiron Skinner, a social sciences professor at Carnegie Mellon University and a national co-chair for the Women With Newt Coalition, told The Root. She says that, in Gingrich's view, the contraception debate is really about broader issues of what employers should be required to do and what the government should pay for.

"I think you'll see that he's a much more thoughtful advocate for women, one that says, 'You have responsibility and choice in your life, that the government should not be involved with by mandating that you have a particular type of health care regimen,' " Skinner said. "You've noticed he's not out there giving the mistake one-liners that we've seen from Sen. Santorum, which have inflamed the debate on women's health issues. He's more concerned about states' rights and how much the government should be involved, be it the state or the federal government, in what all of us do with our lives."

Making the Case for Newt

Among the few African-American women in the field of foreign policy, Skinner is also the director of Carnegie Mellon University's Center for International Relations and Politics. From 2001 to 2007 she served on the U.S. Defense Department's policy board as an adviser on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She signed onto the Gingrich campaign last November as a national security adviser.

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