Tag Archives: birth control

I Was Wrong

Yesterday I blogged about something I’d gotten right. Today, I’m going to admit being wrong.

When people first began talking about a “war on women,” I thought the rhetoric was over the top. Sure, there were some retrograde legislators in statehouses around the country–not to mention Washington–but that’s always been the case. Attacks on Roe v. Wade have been a staple since the case was first decided, and the persistent efforts to roll back a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy have long been an unpleasant but relatively minor part of the political landscape.  I never believed those who insisted that–given a chance–the attacks would intensify, and even extend to contraception.

Boy, was I wrong!

The elections of 2010 that swept conservative and Tea Party Republicans into office were evidently seen as authorizations to engage in a full-scale and increasingly demeaning attack on women’s reproductive rights.

It wasn’t just the offensive transvaginal ultrasound bill that has been characterized as “legislative rape.” During the first six months of 2011, 19 states enacted 162 new provisions aimed at reproductive health. There were “counseling” and extended waiting periods for abortions–including a South Dakota measure that requires “counseling” to include risk factors even when those risks are not supported by medical evidence. In Kansas and Arizona, laws working their way through their respective legislative processes would allow doctors to withhold accurate information about fetal abnormalities or risks posed by the pregnancy from women who might decide, on the basis of that information, to abort.

Fifteen states banned abortions after 20 weeks unless the woman’s life is endangered. Ohio went even farther, banning abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually between six and ten weeks. Still others passed measures making medication abortions difficult or impossible.

Then there have been the truly bizarre efforts aimed squarely at birth control and women’s health.

The recent Congressional effort to characterize contraceptive coverage as a religious liberty issue has been widely debated, but there have been other, less publicized efforts to deny women access to birth control. Several states have considered so-called “personhood” amendments that would effectively ban the most effective forms of contraception by equating a fertilized egg to a “person.” There have been repeated efforts at both the federal and state level to de-fund Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that huge numbers of poor women depend upon the organization for basic health services like pap smears and breast exams.

The (male) politicians who favor these and other punitive measures used to pretend they were operating out of a concern for women’s “informed” consent–since, as we all know, women are too stupid to make these intimate decisions unaided. But even that pretense is disappearing. We have a Republican Presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, on the record saying contraception is wrong because it allows people to do “wrong” things–i.e., engage in non-procreative sex.

If this avalanche of misogyny isn’t a “war on women,” I’d hate to see the real thing.

Gail Collins recommends investing in burqa futures. I think she’s on to something.

Over the Top? Or Not?

I’ve never been one of those feminists who sees patriarchy in every corner of the culture, or a sexist leer in every male smile. While I certainly consider myself a feminist–defined as one who believes that men and women should be entitled to equal legal rights and judged on our individual abilities–I’ve always assumed that resistance to a fuller role for women in society is mostly a product of the more general resistance to change and nostalgia for a bygone (largely imaginary) past.

But I’m beginning to think that “the war on women” may not be hyperbole.

Yesterday, Slate Magazine had an article on the now infamous attack on Girl Scouts by Indiana Representative Morris. That article included the following paragraph:

“The escalating hysteria around modern Girl Scouts is due to the increasing polarization in this country around the concept of women’s equality. In an era where the right is putting contraception back on the table as a controversial topic, girls getting together to build self-esteem and learn skills that might make them competitive with boys and men in school and the workplace is bound to get the right wing freak-out treatment. We’re talking about the same movement perpetuating the argument that the purpose of sex education is to get teenagers and young adults “hooked” on sex so that the non-profit Planned Parenthood can rake in the big bucks. Of course they look at little girls gathered around the campfire and fill in lurid fantasies bordering on the Satanic. We’re watching the death throes of male dominance, and no one should expect such a thing to look pretty.”

Before this year, I would have dismissed this as an over-the-top reaction to an attack by one clearly disturbed lawmaker. But I have to concede that this bizarre incident can’t be viewed in a vacuum.

There’s the effort in Texas and Virginia to condition a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy on her submission to an invasive, medically unnecessary “transvaginal” probe.  In the twilight zone we currently inhabit, this requirement is being voted on at the same time that Republicans like Rick Santorum are on record opposing funding for prenatal testing. (They’re willing to invade my body to punish me for wanting an abortion, but ensuring the health of my fetus is too expensive??)

The assault on Planned Parenthood has been ferocious, and despite the predictable rhetoric, it can’t be attributed to abortions, which are 3% of what the organization does. Republicans have been vicious in their efforts to de-fund Planned Parenthood entirely, despite the fact that thousands of poor women depend upon it for reproductive health services, breast exams and family planning.

Irrational and improbable as it seems, it is now clear that “family planning” (aka birth control) is actually what they are attacking.

The so-called “Personhood” bills being introduced in several state legislatures would classify a fertilized egg as a “person,” making the most-used methods of contraception “abortions,” and thus illegal under most circumstances.  The manufactured hysteria about requiring insurance companies to cover contraception–portrayed as an affront to the “religious liberty” of employers–confirmed that there  really is a concerted effort to deny women the right to control their own reproduction. (I’ll admit to being stunned that there really are people living in the United States in the 21st century who believe that “religious liberty” means they have the right to impose their religious beliefs on women who do not share those beliefs. Shades of the Taliban…)

In 1971, I was one of a small handful of women in my law school class. I was the first woman hired by the law firm I joined, and thanks to a progressive mayor, the first woman to be Corporation Counsel of a major American city. I was the only skirt in the room more times than I can remember, for more years than I can now count. But during that time–despite the patronizing behavior of male colleagues, despite the female “friends” who warned me that children of working mothers all turn out to be drug addicts, despite snide remarks about castrating females or offensive suggestions that the only way I could have gotten these jobs was by “putting out” –I never doubted that women would continue to make progress. The old guys with the archaic attitudes would die off, the increasing participation of women in the workforce would make us less of an anomaly, and we would provide healthier, more capacious role models for our children, male and female.

Time and patience were our allies. Progress–however incremental–was inevitable.

I still believe in that progress. I still believe male privilege and domination are inevitably doomed. But I had no idea how hard the troglodytes would fight, and how ferocious the backlash would be.

Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney keep insisting that this year’s elections are about competing visions for America. They’re right. And one element of those competing visions is the role women will play. It’s becoming increasingly clear that when Romney and Santorum talk about “restoring” the future, they are talking about returning to a time when Father always knew best, and Mother played a decidedly second fiddle. (That retrograde vision is why so many male Republicans trash-talk Michelle Obama, while consigning their own wives to supporting roles as devoted and adoring props.)

I’ve been there and done that, and I’m not going back.