(WOMENSENEWS)–More than 50 women’s rights organizations will be using March 1, the first day of women’s history month, to announce a voter-major mobilization effort for the 2012 elections.

The coalition is called HERVotes, with the HER standing for Health and Economic Rights. Goals include standing up for Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, livable wages and families’ economic security.

HERVotes throws its collective weight into the elections in a week jangling with news spurs; from GOP candidate Mitt Romney’s expressed enthusiasm for mandated drug coverage of welfare recipients–more than 90 percent of whom are women–to a controversial Senate bill allowing employers to opt out of the health reform mandate to provide insurance coverage of birth control.

HERVotes has a Web site, but no central office or designated leader. Members include the Feminist Majority Foundation in Arlington,Va.; the National Council of Negro Women in Washington and MomsRising.org, an online group with contact phone numbers in Washington, D.C.

Earlier this week, HERVotes organizers said they are "determined to ensure that women have access to quality health care; to protect the gains women have made in education, the workplace, health care and basic individual rights and to continue moving forward an equality agenda."

A related voter drive can safely be assumed to benefit Democrats, who are more likely to oppose such things as mandatory pre-abortion sonograms (just passed in a watered-down version in Virginia and coming up in Idaho and Pennsylvania) and more likely to favor birth control coverage in health reform, which is being taken up by the U.S. Senate this week.

A Boost for Obama

If HERVotes does manage to boost the women’s vote in November, President Barack Obama is poised to benefit.

An Associated Press-GfK poll finds the president’s approval ratings on the economy and unemployment up by 10 percentage points since December. Women are giving Obama more credit than men are for the country’s economic improvement, the Associated Press reported Feb. 28.

A Feb. 28 survey by Poll Position, a survey group based in Atlanta, meanwhile, finds a sizable gender gap on the front-burner issue of government-mandated health insurance coverage of birth control.

Men oppose the mandate (51 percent to 37 percent) while women support it (46 percent to 42 percent.)Democrats back the mandate (70 percent to 19 percent); Republicans opposed it (70 percent to 19 percent) and Independents oppose it (47 percent to 39 percent.) Poll Position finds Americans age 44 and younger favoring the mandate, older Americans opposing.

Overall nationwide, Poll Position finds 46 percent opposing the mandate, 42 percent supporting it.

In election-year politics the key issue is who turns out to vote.

HERVotes cites data from the Center for American Women in Politics, based in New Brunswick, N.J., showing a strong voter turnout advantage among women in 2008, with 60.4 percent of women voting compared with 55.7 percent of men. The gender gap, according to the research group, held true across all ages and races.

Virginia Pulls Back a Bit

At the level of state politics, some staunchly anti-choice politicians appear to be growing shy of the reproductive-rights spotlight. Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is this week’s prime example.

The Virginia Senate voted Tuesday for a scaled-back version of a controversial proposal that would require women to undergo external ultrasounds before abortions, but not the transvaginal ones, The Washington Post reported Feb. 28.

The 21-19 vote in the Republican-controlled Senate — mostly along party lines — followed protests on Capitol Square and mocking on national television. McDonnell responded by asking legislators to soften the bill. Earlier, the state senate finance committee killed a bill that would have prevented poor women whose fetuses have gross mental and physical abnormalities from using state funds for abortions.

Women hold 90, or 16.8 percent, of the 535 seats in the 112th US Congress — 17, or 17 percent, of the 100 seats in the Senate and 73, or 16.8 percent, of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives.

A group of political women in Virginia formed a political action committee to recruit and support candidates to defeat elected officials who back the ultrasound and so-called personhood bills, The Washington Post reported Feb. 27. Women’s Strike Force, which boasts several former elected officials, formed after Virginia’s attempt to require women to undergo mandatory trans-vaginal ultrasounds before an abortion.

Anti-Abortion Fight Not Over

The controversy and push-back in Virginia, however, isn’t discouraging anti-abortion legislators in Idaho and Pennsylvania, where the ultrasound issue is just coming up.

Nor does there appear to be any let-up on the attacks on women living at the edges of survival.

The conservative push for mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients in the program called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF, has produced measures in nearly two dozen states, The New York Times reported Feb. 26, citing the National Conference of State Legislatures. Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney has called it an "excellent idea."

Researchers at the anti-poverty group CLASP–the Center for Law and Social Policy in Washington, D.C.–have found that drug-testing programs cost more to administer than they save by excluding participants, so it’s not cost-effective.

Elizabeth Lower-Basch, senior policy analyst at CLASP, told Women’s eNews in a phone interview a year ago that the law that instituted TANF does not say that recipients can’t use illegal drugs. If states are going to test welfare recipients for "reasonable suspicion," it needs to be written out what that entails so as not to discriminate, she said. "Just because they are poor we can’t suspect they are doing drugs."

The Department of Health and Human Services has found that–contrary to some stereotyping–use of illicit drugs is not much higher in families receiving public assistance. In one study they found a 9.6 percent rate of drug usage in the preceding month, compared with a 6.8 percent rate among families who receive no assistance. The administration also found that heavy alcohol use was slightly lower in households receiving assistance than in those that do not.

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