By Josh Sager
In the past year, the right wing of the United States, represented primarily by the Republicans and Tea Partiers, has rapidly accelerated their long term war on women’s rights. This war, beginning when women were given increased social and personal rights during the 20th century, has been waged on multiple fronts that have evolved with the times. Battles that have been won by the left in this long standing fight include the rights to vote, to be treated equally in terms of property rights, and to receive equal access to education; battles that are currently being fought include the rights to have an abortion or access to birth control and to have equal compensation for work in relation to men.
Abortion policy is a very complex and difficult issue. On the pro-choice side, there are those who believe that access to abortions is a civil right and that women should have control over decisions regarding their bodies. The “pro-life” side of the abortion debate is, in my opinion, divisible into two distinct sides: Many Americans are genuinely pro-life and believe that a zygote is a human life, thus they truly consider abortion to be murder; in addition to the true “pro-lifers”, a significant portion of the “pro-life” movement could more accurately be labeled anti-woman, as they only want to control the bodies of women due to their own misogyny or religious beliefs. While I disagree with the position of the truly pro-life activists, I don’t consider them to be immoral or anti-woman and they are not those who I am talking about in the rest of this article.
It is easy to identify an anti-woman “pro-lifer” by their stands on various issues. Those who are anti-woman, rather than simply pro-life stop caring about the fetus once it is born; childhood healthcare, education and housing are seen as irrelevant after the child leaves the womb (after all, what is the point of protecting life if it doesn’t have the side benefit of controlling women). Anti-woman “pro-lifers” are often against contraception, because come on, allowing women to avoid unwanted pregnancies couldn’t possibly lower the numbers of abortions. The third, and most direct, way to identify an anti-woman “pro-lifer” is to look for those who talk of protecting zygotes while disrespecting the lives of functioning human beings; terrorists who bomb abortion clinics, politicians who propose sadistic requirements for women to obtain abortions, and those who are willing to cut funding for vital health services in order to limit access to abortions are just a few examples of people who fall into this category.
The current war on women’s rights to control their bodies and health care can be symbolized perfectly by the recent committee run by Rep Darrell Issa (R-CA). In this committee, we find a bunch of old, predominantly white and religious, men deciding whether women should have the right to have easy access to contraception; despite requests from Democrats, committee chair Issa has refused to allow even a single woman to testify. This situation is emblematic of the entire pattern of regressive men believing that they have the right to control the bodies of women.
Since the elections of 2010, the state and federal legislatures have been flooded with anti-woman bills and amendments to bills. While it is not unusual for states and the federal legislature to field several anti-abortion bills per legislative session, the number of such bills proposed during this session has increased by over 10-fold. These bills run the gamut from intrusive and petty to morally repugnant but they all have the common goals of reducing access to safe abortions or punishing women who have abortions.
On the intrusive and petty side of the spectrum, we have bills that increase waiting times, mandate “counseling” with anti-abortion groups, or spread disinformation about the side effects of abortion. By increasing the logistical difficulty of actually getting an abortion, those who wish to stop the procedure from occurring will try to dissuade women from actually going through with the process. The petty or obstructive tactics, such as the 2011 waiting period law instituted in South Dakota, are particularly obstructive to lower income/resource women; these women are less likely to have the resources to go through a long and resource consuming procedure. Obstructive tactics are used by virtually all “pro-life” activists, regardless of whether they are anti-woman or simply pro-life.
Anti-women activists have gone above and beyond simply obstructing abortion access in many cases over the past legislative session. There are a number of truly repugnant bills that have been proposed in various legislatures: Legalizing the killing of abortion doctors (Kansas), criminalizing miscarriages if the woman cannot prove natural causes (Georgia), mandating unnecessary and penetrative ultrasound procedures for all abortion procedures (Virginia) and even redefining rape (Federal) are example of the most heinous attempts to attack women’s rights. These bills are nothing more than attempts to punish women and doctors who refuse to be intimidated into following the wishes of the small, albeit powerful, minority that wishes to reduce their rights.
Arguably the worst and most clear example of anti-woman legislation in recent years (And, as described above, there has been some serious competition) was the federal level “Protect Life” Act. Possessing a stunningly Orwellian name, this bill would allow any hospital to not only refuse to perform a LIFE SAVING abortion, but to refuse to send the woman onto another hospital; women would literally be allowed to die in the streets, along with their unborn fetuses. How would this bill “protect life” when it expressly leads to the death of both mother and unborn child?
The only recent bill that could possible contest the “Protect Life” Act in terms of its extremity is the Virginia state bill (SB484) that would mandate trans-vaginal ultrasounds as a requirement for all abortions; this procedure is highly invasive, medically unnecessary, and would be mandated in all cases, regardless of the situation. As the FBI officially defines rape as “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim”, this bill arguably mandates the rape of all women who are to get abortions in VA. There would be no age, medical necessity, or rape exceptions to this law (too bad if you are an underage rape victim with an ectopic pregnancy; you are forced to endure thus medically unnecessary procedure regardless) and it only serves to attack women who are availing themselves of a constitutionally protected procedure.
For those of you who wish to thank the VA legislature for its heartwarming concern for zygotes everywhere, even at the expense of thinking humans, you can find links to each of this bill’s sponsors at the following link: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?121+mbr+SB484
While anti-choice policy has been the preferred medium for anti-woman crusaders to push their agenda, it appears that contraception is the next battleground. The recent fight over contraception’s inclusion into insurance policies, free of charge, appears to be the start of a new battleground for anti-women activists to wage war. This situation is still evolving and hopefully will be abandoned quickly. Contraception is very popular and, as I seriously doubt that people will simply stop having sex, attacking contraception is an obviously losing argument. Hopefully this situation will resolve itself over time, but we must pay attention to it lest we get blindsided.
I only hope that women in the USA wake up and realize that there is a group of crazy, old white men, called the Republican Party, trying to roll back the 21st century. Whether they are attacking women, oppressing minorities, or keeping the poor from advancing, these right wingers are organized, well-funded and highly motivated. Women and sane men must get organized and try to push back the tide of oppression and insanity before it is too late.