Friday, May 18, 2012

The "War On Women"

In the debased swamp that passes for political discourse in the U.S., a recurring fad is to dub everything a "War On" this-or-that. Ye humble editor isn't much of a fan of such fads but there does, at present, exist a phenomenon on the far right that liberal commentators have dubbed the "War On Women" and it's difficult to argue against this being an appropriate label for it.

For the last few years, reactionaries in both the federal and state governments (mostly Republicans) have, indeed, tried to make what could fairly be called a "war" on women. There are an infinity of ugly but relatively unsensational examples; Wyoming Republicans' efforts to pass legislation that would force the state to "emphasize nonmarital parenthood"--in and of itself--"as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect"; Wisconsin Republicans' recent repeal of a law regarding gender-based wage discrimination, which effectively closed the doors of that state's court to women trying to bring such cases against their employers; upon assuming the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives last year, Republicans passed legislation that would completely eliminate all federal funding of family planning for low-income Americans. The bill was aimed at eliminating funds for Planned Parenthood, one of the oldest, largest and most important U.S. providers of health care services to poor women. Because of Planned Parenthood's connection to abortion, the sponsors of the legislation falsely portrayed it as an anti-abortion measure; in reality, it's been a rule for decades that no federal funds can be spent on abortion. Republicans in state governments across the U.S. have launched similar anti-Planned Parenthood efforts.

It's when one gets to such sexy bits--or, more particularly, the bits having to do with sex and women having control over things related to it--that the particularly dark and ugly aspect of all of this becomes apparent.

Congressional Republicans have tried to enact legislation that would allow employers to deny insurance coverage for birth control if said employer claimed to have a moral objection to it. In Arizona, the original state Republicans' variation on this would have allowed such objecting employers to demand, of their female employees who were prescribed contraception, private medical records proving they weren't using the contraceptives merely for contraception and would have allowed those who failed to comply to be fired. For many reactionaries waging this "war," the privacy of women doesn't even register as a concern. Tennessee Republicans have pressed for a law requiring the Dept. of Health to collect and publish detailed information from the private medical records of every woman who has an abortion in the state and also to publish the names of the doctors who performed the procedures. Georgia has contemplated similar legislation.

The premise of a lot of the misogynistic law-making is that women are simply incapable of making decisions on their own. They need male legislators to require them to endure onerous waiting periods before they can obtain abortions, since, being stupid children, they just rush into such things. In South Dakota, Republicans passed legislation requiring that women seeking abortions first attend a "consultation" at a "crisis pregnancy center," noxious facilities staffed by anti-abortion zealots who aren't medical professionals of any stripe and whose M.O. is to attempt to frighten and guilt women out of abortions using an astonishing array of lies and misinformation--assertions that abortions lead to, among other things, cancer, infertility, mental illness and suicide, none of which have any basis in reality. Republicans in 27 states have crafted (and, in most of those states, passed) laws requiring medically unnecessary ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, the idea being to show these stupid women the "baby" they're looking to "kill." As most abortions occur in the earliest stages of pregnancy when no image can be obtained via a standard ultrasound (because the developing tissue characterized as no different than a fully developed human being is too small to be seen by the equipment), this requires ultrasounds via vaginal probe--essentially state-ordered rape.

Some reactionaries seem to believe rape is just something women made up anyway. In Georgia, state Rep. Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta) decided he didn't like the word "victim" being used in statutes regarding rape, stalking, domestic violence and other laws with a gender component; he introduced legislation to remove the word from said statutes in connection with those crimes and replace it with "accuser." Like far too many reactionaries, Franklin showed a contempt for women that seemed to border on mental illness. For 9 years, he repeatedly introduced legislation that would completely ban abortion in Georgia and would require a criminal investigation of every known miscarriage, with those who have suffered them having to prove they had no part in it or face life in prison or even the death penalty. Mercifully, Franklin, last summer, suffered a massive heart-attack and died, leaving the world no poorer by his absence from it.

If Franklin's miscarriage rule sounds particularly extreme, it is, in fact, a view endorsed by every contender in this year's Republican presidential race, all of whom have expressed support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution itself that would define a human egg, from the moment a sperm hits it, as a human being with full rights. Among other things, this would completely ban abortion; it would ban embryonic stem-cell research; it would, in effect, ban in vetro procedures for the infertile; given the fantasy reading its authors insist upon, it would ban hormonal birth control (which is to say, most birth control); and it would require a federal murder investigation of every known miscarriage, all as constitutional requirements. As I said, every Republican campaign, including the eventual candidate Mitt Romney, endorsed this insane proposal.

When it comes to legal assaults on women, it seems no proposal is considered too extreme to be tried. Last year, Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) introduced the Orwellian monikered "Protect Life Act" which would have legally allowed hospitals, when faced with a woman whose pregnancy has suddenly gone crisis, to simply let her die rather than performing an abortion to save her life or facilitating her transfer to a facility that would perform the procedure. Republicans in the U.S. House just launched a full-bore assault on the previously uncontroversial Violence Against Women Act. In South Dakota, Republicans tried to pass legislation that would legalize the murder of doctors who perform abortions. The measure was eventually shelved but within days, Republicans in Nebraska tried to enact it in that state.

Earlier this month, New York state Sen. Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx) unleashed a brainless anti-abortion tirade in an email to his supporters, in which he essentially asserted that black is white and up is down:

"Hitler was pro-choice. He chose to send the Jews to Auschwitz. That was not their choice that was Hitler’s choice. Murderers, assassins and criminals are pro-choice. They choose to put a gun to your head and take your life. That is not your choice. That is their choice."

These sorts of comparisons, of abortion to the Holocaust and of the pro-choice faction to Nazism, are omnipresent in U.S. anti-abortion rhetoric. History, of course, tells a very different story. In Nazi Germany, all family planning clinics were closed with guns in the immediate aftermath of the Enabling Act, advertising or even displaying contraceptives was banned and abortion was made, in the words of historian Richard Grunberger, "one of the most heinous crimes in the Nazi statute book." Doctors who performed the procedure were initially sentenced to 6-to-15-years in prison; later, this was upped to the death penalty. Hitler preferred his enemies practice abortion and when in a position to dictate, often gave them as little choice in the matter as would the the anti-choice crowd in the U.S.. This reflects the legal state of affairs under every other major fascist movement as well. In fascist Italy, contraception was banned and existing laws against abortion, which had been treated as essentially dead letters before il Duce, were reinforced and penalties significantly stiffened. In Spain, the liberalized abortion approach of the Republican era was stamped out; women who had abortions were subject to up to six years in prison and their medical records and sexual histories--real or fabricated--would be publicized by the state. Fascists have ever been advocates of the misogynistic activities I've been describing throughout this article. When it comes to these issues, life under such regimes was exactly as it would be under the rule of the U.S. reactionaries waging the present "War On Women."

An ugly protofascism is seeping into our politics everywhere, to the point that "mainstream" presidential candidates are now entirely comfortable and even enthusiastic about embracing measures so extreme that, only a few years ago, they would have marked these candidates as marginal clowns unworthy of serious national consideration (as, indeed, should be the case today and would if the corporate press didn't act as an enabler of this poison). This really is a "War On Women." And it needs to stop.


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