Women, War and Caterpillars


 In an ill-executed effort to tamp down anti-woman rhetoric, Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus went on Bloomberg Television and awkwardly accused Democrats of falsely proclaiming that the GOP is waging a war on women:

“If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we’d have problems with caterpillars,” Priebus proffered. “It’s a fiction.”

Really? Caterpillars? Mr. Chairman, as the head of your party, messenging is your primary job. In fact, it’s really your only job. Were you hoping we’d be distracted by thoughts of emerging butterflies?

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska takes the situation more seriously than her chairman. Though she voted for the access-limiting failed Blunt Amendment recently, she has expressed regret and concern for the disconnect illustrated by the caterpillar analogy.

“I think what you’re sensing is a fear, a concern that women feel threatened, that a long settled issue might not be settled,” Murkowski intoned in a recent radio interview. “It makes no sense, this attack on women. If you don’t feel this is an attack, you need to go home and talk to your wives and daughters.”

Despite the senator’s astute articulation of the on-going assault on women’s health in this country, a dispute lingers. Can we really call it a war? Is that inflammatory? Unpatriotic? Both claims have been made by right-of-the-aisle pundits and politicians.

Legislative Attacks

A definition of the word “war” seems to be in order.

war (n): 1 – a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations;

2 – a state of hostility, conflict, or antagonism; a struggle or competition between opposing forces or for a particular end i.e., “a class war” or “a war against disease”

A “particular end” should not be in doubt. The goal is the suppression of women through lack of education/access/affordability all the while veiled as a commitment to life and budget balancing. The “antagonism” and “state of hostility” is evidenced by the committed focus on women’s health during a time of international conflict and domestic economic despair.

State legislatures had time to enact 69 anti-choice bills in 2011. They were overwhelmingly elected in the tea party wave of 2010 to create jobs. Jobs Jobs Jobs. Exactly zero of those 69 family planning-preventing bills created jobs. And those bills pale in comparison to what is happening in the early part of 2012.

So far this year an onslaught of anti-Constitutional bills are weaving their way through GOP-controlled state houses. Under the guise of protecting “life” as they see it, elected officials are endangering doctors and patients, redefining the term “pregnant,” attempting to declare in vitro fertilization an illegitimate method of conception, and eliminating healthcare funding for hundreds of thousands of women.

Here is a sampling of pending legislative action:

(for a well-updated, comprehensive list of state and federal bills RH Reality Check is a fantastic resource)

Tennessee legislators pitched House Bill (HB) 3808, the inappropriately named “Life Defense Act of 2012,” last month in an effort to publish identifying data on women seeking abortions along with the doctors performing them. (See my post “Unauthorized Intrusion” for a more thorough description of its effects as originally written.)

National outcry has led to an amended form of the bill which scales back the violations to the state constitution, the U.S. Constitution and the Hippocratic Oath. However, legislators have retained the provision requiring doctors to have “admitting privileges” at a nearby hospital – a legal roadblock in a state where most abortions are performed at clinics, not hospitals. This would effectively eliminate access in the rural counties which constitute the majority of Tennessee.

Not to be outdone, Arizona legislators introduced HB 2036 in an effort to outlaw abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. As only 1.5 percent of abortions occur past this point – mainly to terminate unviable pregnancies, this wouldn’t initially seem like much of an attack. However, the bill’s proponents seek to define gestational age “as calculated from the first day of the last menstrual period of the pregnant woman.” Translation: you can be pregnant two weeks before conception. The possible effects on birth control alone should send Arizona’s women into the streets in protest. Declaring every woman of reproductive age legally pregnant two weeks per month is ludicrously radical.

Nebraska’s version of the 20-week ban recently forced Danielle and Rob Deaver to suffer through the birthing process with the knowledge that their child would not survive. They found out at 22 weeks that their child’s lungs were not developing properly. Instead of mercifully terminating an unviable pregnancy, they had to watch their child gasp for air and die just minutes after delivery. (If your heart can take it, they made a video for Planned Parenthood’s “Women are Watching” series available at: http://www.womenarewatching.org .)

A traditionally blue state is jumping into the fray as well. The Illinois chapter of the Pro-Life Action League in conjunction with a local Catholic parish in Naperville wants to do away with in vitro fertilization. Life, it seems, only matters if it begins in a traditional way and with no assumed collateral damage. The contention, of course, concerns any embryos not implanted after the course of fertility treatments.

Eric Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League proclaims that “human life is being cheapened through the practice of IVF.” The real intended outcome of posturing publicly about IVF is to stir up support for the “personhood” amendments/referendums being voted down by striking margins across the country. Frozen embryos are the backdoor through which personhood proponents hope to pass legislation.

Texas recently violated a federal Medicaid statute as a way to defund Planned Parenthood, thus turning away $35 million for women’s health care services. The compounding effect of budget woes in the state along with the loss of federal money could leave approximately 400,000 women across Texas with no access to birth control, cancer screenings and other preventative services.

The Texas situation in particular sounds like a budgetary nightmare that should have conservatives up in arms next to their liberal neighbors. Reducing access to birth control and cancer screenings is the most effective way to increase the number of unwanted pregnancies, expensive, advanced cases of cancer and further drain an already strained Medicaid system. Governor Perry seems to have learned little from last summer’s doomsday scenario wherein Congressional Republicans attempted to make the impending health crisis in Texas a reality for the entire nation.

That’s right, the under-reported motivation behind shutting down the government via the 2011 debt ceiling debate was the GOP’s perceived opportunity to end federal funding to Planned Parenthood. That was the bargaining chip tea party House members were clinging to so tightly that they were willing to cost the American tax payers hundreds of millions of dollars; catching up after a shutdown has historically been extremely expensive.

The gamble the GOP took was ridiculous from a purely financial front. Planned Parenthood receives less than $100 million in Title X funding and less than $300 million in Medicaid funding (with the Hyde Amendment preventing either from being used for abortion services)…so about what two days of a government shutdown would cost.

Also, Title X is a miniscule percentage of the national budget – despite what the hysterics of the GOP would lead the casual news viewer to believe. If the goal was to control the deficit, balance the budget, “get our fiscal house in order,” as tea party legislators were screaming from Capitol Hill, then they could have picked a number of more effective targets than women’s healthcare. The math simply doesn’t lend itself to their degree of emphatically articulated talking points.

Radicalizing Rhetoric

All the wonky legislative talk and justified outrage cannot compare to the real-life, inevitable outcomes of such policy attacks. The marginalizing of women, radicalization of anti-choice platitudes and unprecedented volumes of legislation create a climate ripe for extremism.

A small bomb was detonated at a Planned Parenthood in eastern Wisconsin on April 1. This incident of domestic terrorism – with terrorism defined as a “systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion” – temporarily closed the clinic.

Though 50-year-old Francis Grady only succeeded in physically damaging one exam room, the psychological effect can hardly be calculated. He stated satisfactorily that he attacked the clinic because “they’re killing babies there.”

The ignorance is astounding. The bold, proud proclamation that he was “here to do good and not wrong” is absolutely terrifying.

Men and women like Grady do not arrive at the conclusion that such action is “good and not wrong” on their own. They absorb it from the airwaves, their surroundings and the tone of public discourse.

The bold, unapologetic war on women has consequences. The women who will now think twice about seeking preventative care, cancer screenings and counseling from their local Planned Parenthood are valuable human beings who do not deserve to feel threatened.

What of the woman who is too afraid to go to a clinic for birth control? Who raises the child conceived because she had no access?

What of the woman who misses her chance at detecting cervical cancer early on? Who cares for her, pays her bills and feeds her family as she suffers unnecessarily?

These are not hypothetical questions, Mr. Chairman. These are the concerns of women in every corner of our country. These concerns exist because your party is actively legislating away our rights and limiting our ability to control our lives.

We are not being hysterical. We are not being demanding. We simply wish to retain the rights our mothers and grandmothers fought so courageously for.

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Categories: Finding My Voice

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