Here is Part 2 of the article about the supposedly imaginary War on Women. As I said earlier, the GOP thinks we’re stupid. In fact, the GOP is stupid. Watch Rachel Maddow make a total mockery of Mitch McConnell’s assertion that everybody in the GOP sees the War on Women as a “manufactured” issue, including the GOP’s female legislators. Maybe he should have confirmed that with them before opening his mouth.
Expanding the war on reproductive rights
Abortion has been a battleground for some time, even though it’s been 39 years since the Roe v. Wade decision. Right-wing Christian extremists have been working at infiltrating the legislative process for about thirty years. They have succeeded by just about obliterating the line separating church and state. In the meantime, they’ve been busy on other fronts as well. It’s no coincidence that in the past three decades, there have been eight abortion doctors and reproductive health-care workers murdered, 17 attempted murders of providers and health-care workers, 41 abortion clinic bombings, 175 cases of arson against clinics, and more than 400 death threats against physicians and clinic staff. Now abortion isn’t the only flash point.
Taking a page out of the right-wing Christian playbook, the Catholic church has taken the lead on the contraception issue. It is targeting the two things that contribute to lower abortion rates: Family planning and contraception. Back in March, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops teamed up with an organization called the Pro-Life Action League to stage several dozen street protests in cities across America against the president’s contraception mandate, which calls for health insurance companies to provide free contraception coverage, including to the employees of Catholic organizations. (Churches are exempt, of course.)
Immediately, the Catholic church jumped on the issue saying that it was a violation of ‘religious freedom.’ It doesn’t matter that studies show that 98% of sexually active Catholics have used contraception during their lifetime. It also doesn’t matter that the president immediately responded to the bishops’ concern and softened the original mandate, which called for the employers to provide the coverage, by shifting responsibility to the health care providers. It also doesn’t matter that, as employers, the church receives substantial tax subsidies and hires many non-Catholics.
The GOP, of course, loves a good culture war. It responded to the pressure and is standing with the Vatican – an institution that has failed to keep up with a changing world. The fact that we are even discussing contraception here in the 21st century is mind-boggling, to say the least. The vast majority of Americans see contraception as a basic health issue, making this a losing issue for the GOP. If you think that contraception is only verboten for sexually active unmarried women, think again. For the Catholic church and the GOP, contraception is apparently verboten for all women. The only reason women exist is to have babies. The only reason for sex within a marriage is to procreate.
Still on the campaign trail at that time, Roman Catholic poster boy Rick Santorum spoke out at the Conservative Political Action Congress (CPAC). “It’s not about contraception,” said Santorum, “It’s about economic liberty; it’s about freedom of speech; it’s about freedom of religion. It’s about government control of your lives and it’s got to stop.” No, Rick, it’s about women’s health, and ‘religious freedom’ has absolutely nothing to do with women making decisions about their own health care. Neither does ‘freedom of religion’ give an organization the right to deny women basic health care based on some bogus moral or religious objection.
The first volley in the Battle of Contraception Hill was fired by Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, when he convened a hearing on the issue. Testifying were plenty of men – including many members of the clergy – but no women. He banned Georgetown student Sandra Fluke from testifying, sending a letter to the Democrats stating, “As the hearing is not about reproductive rights and contraception but instead about the Administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience, he believes that Ms. Fluke is not an appropriate witness.” Needless to say, the House women were not pleased, and after this exchange Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) walked out of the hearing in frustration:
If Issa’s folly was the first volley, then Senator Roy Blunt’s (R-MO) response to the contraception flack was a ballistic escalation of the War on Women. With just 13 months under his belt in the Senate and with his eyes on becoming majority leader, he introduced legislation that would allow employers to deny coverage of contraception and other medical services if they have a religious or moral objection. This whole position is absurd on its face. Your employer is going to decide if you’re acting morally? Really? The Blunt Amendment, as it was called, eventually went down to defeat by a vote of 51-48, very much too close for comfort. Although this absurd legislation was finally beaten back, the vote signals that the War on Women is very much alive, and the contraception issue is far from dead.
Women under attack by both the pols and the pundits
The usual loudmouth pundits clogging up the airwaves are providing plenty of cover for the GOP. When Sandra Fluke, the third-year Georgetown law student whom Issa banned from his hearing, finally did get to testify at Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) informal hearing called in response to Issa’s all-male panel, she immediately came under attack from fat boy himself, Rush Limbaugh. As you might expect, his comments were off the charts and outside the boundaries of civil public discourse.
“What does it say about the college co-ed Sandra Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her?” Limbaugh said on his radio show on Wednesday. “It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps.”
Limbaugh then went on to say that if he was going to pay for Fluke to have sex, he wanted her to post videos on YouTube so that he could watch them. Limbaugh was not just insulting and obscene once, but several times over the course of the week. Then, that other right-wing genius, Bill O’Reilly, weighed in on the subject.
When Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) suggested there was clear gender bias in the discussion since nobody was questioning why men receive coverage for Viagra, O’Reilly poined out that Viagra is a drug used for a health issue while contraceptives are for promiscuity. Of course, as my grandmother used to say, ignorance is bliss. Contraceptives are used within marriages as well as by single women. It’s called family planning. Of course, the Vatican knows nothing about that since couples only have sex to procreate. There are other medical uses for contraceptives, such as painful, heavy or irregular periods, acne, and to prevent the recurrence of ovarian cysts. Apparently, these aren’t serious medical conditions compared to a man’s inability to perform in the bedroom.
This war is not just about abortion and contraception
You’d be underestimating the GOP if you think the War on Women stops at reproductive rights. There’s the matter of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), originally enacted in 1994 to improve the criminal justice response to domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. It also increases the availability of services to victims of such crimes. VAWA is usually reauthorized every four years without much issue…until this year, of course. The bill was unanimously passed by the Senate by a vote of 68-31, and includes new provisions that increase the number of visas available to undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence, bans discrimination against LGBT victims of domestic violence, and gives more authority to Native American tribes to address domestic violence. The GOP-controlled House, however, has a very different vision of the VAWA.
In the House, the new provisions were stripped out of the bill. Specifically, the House version eliminates the confidentiality protections for immigrant women who have been abused. According to the bill’s sponsors (Lamar Smith-TX and Sandy Adams-FL), this was done so that undocumented victims could not “fake” abuse to gain citizenship. It also strips out the LGBT and Native American protections in the Senate version. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) took the House to task, saying:
“This bill is a move backwards. I can assure you, you will not get the vote of the Democratic side of this committee because it is a step backwards and a flat-out attack on women.”
The GOP has unleashed a sleeping giant
The GOP wants us to believe that the War on Women is all in our heads, that it has been invented to distract us from the real issues. We know better. In 2012, women will dominate at the polls, out voting men by 10 million. Every single unregistered woman should register and deliver a message to the GOP that they will understand: A pink slip. Women are awake and aware of the fact that this is a war on their rights.
Women also have a message for all the men out there. Instead of laying the responsibility for ending this misogynistic war on the doorstep of the unmarried women voters in this country, they need to take some responsibility for helping to end it.