When the National Pro-Life Alliance sent James Woods, a relatively unknown congressional candidate from just outside Phoenix, a survey about his views on abortion, his response thrilled pro-choice activists and feminist bloggers across the country.
“While I cannot support policies that jeopardize the health and stability of women and their families, there are many measures that I do support that are proven to quickly enhance the well-being of women—and to significantly reduce abortion,” 35-year-old Woods replied. With his letter, he enclosed condoms that read “Prevent Abortion.”
Woods is a long-shot candidate running in Arizona’s 5th District against Matt Salmon. Salmon is a Republican first elected to the House in 1994 who opposes abortion, gay rights, Obamacare, and raising the debt limit.
We talked with Woods about reproductive rights, getting people with disabilities involved in civic life, and why there should be more atheists in office.
TakePart: What’s the story behind those condoms you sent? Did you have them made specifically for the National Pro-Life Alliance?
James Woods: They had several of their local activists send a form letter from their home addresses talking about how they basically want to end legalized abortion in the United States. They’re trying to take away reproductive agency of women to make their own health care decisions. I drafted a letter, had condoms made up, and sent them. I wanted to highlight that contraception is the best way to empower women to reduce the number of abortions—which absolutely is a laudable goal.
TakePart: How has response been? Have you gotten any criticism?
Woods: Someone on the Internet said the tactic was slimy, which I find offensive. Screaming at women on the worst day of their lives with graphic signs, that’s acceptable to them? But sending a condom is somehow offensive to their moral standard?
The positive response has come from a broad spectrum of people: progressive websites, feminist websites—even local people who consider themselves Libertarian. Most people, even if they are personally against abortion, believe it should be legal and safe. I’m pointing out fringe elements for what they are.
TakePart: You’re pro-choice, clearly, but are you Libertarian? Is government responsible for correcting inequality?
Woods: I’m a civil libertarian. I believe the government has an important role to play in everybody’s life. Government should create a strong social safety net like Social Security Insurance, disability insurance, a universal health care system, and play a role in education. But I think individual freedoms are really important—domestic spying and things like that need to be scrutinized.
TakePart: There’s been a lot of talk about the fact that you’re atheist and blind. Why is it important to bring issues like these to light?
Woods: So many groups are left out of the political conversation: the disabled, the LGBT community, especially the transgender community—no one talks about their needs. Immigrant rights groups and nontheists aren’t represented. I want to have them be part of the conversation.
Persons with disabilities have a notoriously lower engagement in civil life. They vote less, they don’t volunteer, and they don’t donate. A lot of the reason for this is transportation. If I were going to take a bus from where I live to the State Legislature in downtown Phoenix, it would take almost three hours. It would take about a half hour by car. If I’m going to speak at a public hearing, I need to have someone drive me.
People who don’t really think about disabled people, well, wait a while. Eventually almost everyone has some sort of difficulty in their lives, even if it’s just age. Making things more accessible helps everyone.
TakePart: Your opponent, Rep. Matt Salmon, is an entrenched politician who opposes big government. You could have chosen an easier target—why run against someone so established?
Woods: For that very reason. I don’t understand why anyone would be in politics if they think that government shouldn’t do anything. So many people have become so disenfranchised with government, they think, “What’s the point?” Especially in my district, everyone complains about Congress, yet they keep electing the same people. You don’t like the way things are run? Change it.