Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona
Words like “onslaught,” “unprecedented,” “extremist,” “dangerous,” “unconstitutional,” “medically unnecessary,” “unscientific,” and “draconian” have been used to describe the Republican Party’s nationwide push to limit women’s healthcare, stop women from choosing to have safe, legal abortions, and close abortion clinics through over-regulation. In the first six months of this year, states have passed 106 provisions related to reproductive health, including 43 that specifically restrict abortion access.
In recent weeks, high-profile, anti-choice legislation in Texas, Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and North Dakota has made the news. Thanks to a one-woman filibuster by Texas State Senator Wendy Davis and hundreds of pro-choice protesters watching in the Legislative chambers, Texas is the only Republican-controlled state government in that list that didn’t pass and sign into law anti-choice legislation this spring. (Of course, Texas Governor Rick Perry– vowing to end abortion in Texas altogether– has called for another special session of the Republican-dominated State Legislature to fix that, and Democrats have little hope they will be able to stop the legislation a second time.)
These Republican-led states join others like Arizona and Virginia who passed anti-choice legislation in recent years. Nationwide, 13 states now have highly restrictive laws limiting women’s reproductive healthcare and access to legal abortions, resulting in half of American women of reproductive age living in states that are outwardly hostile to their health. Nationwide, 300 anti-choice bills are being debated. In addition, US Senator Marco Rubio and Arizona Congressman Trent Franks have introduced anti-choice bills in the Senate and House of Representatives; a ban on abortions after 20 weeks has already passed the Republican-controlled House.
Regardless of the state, all of these anti-abortion bills have common ideas– requiring medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds of every woman seeking an abortion; providing unscientific misinformation about the fetus to clients; mandating life-threatening waiting periods even for emergency abortions; requiring costly physical changes to abortion clinics (like hospital-width halls and doorways); requiring clinic doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals (even though other out-patient clinics are not required to do this) and then intimidating public hospitals from granting privileges; banning abortions after 20 weeks (or 6 weeks if you live in North Dakota); proclaiming life begins at fertilization and declaring personhood rights for fetuses; eliminating exceptions for rape, incest, and danger to the mother; restricting access to contraception; eliminating the rights of mothers to make decisions for themselves, their children, and their families and giving those decision-making rights to the government– the list goes on.
Over regulation– like mandating physical changes to clinics and hospital privileges for clinic doctors– has been particularly effective in closing nearly all reproductive health clinics in some states. If the proposed law passes in Texas, 40+ clinics will close, leaving only five. It takes more than a day to drive across the wide part of Texas; this law will basically puts all abortions– even those that would be medically or morally necessary due to emergency, rape or incest– out of the reach of most Texas women. That is a travesty. (What if the Republican cared as much about regulating banks as they do about regulating women’s healthcare?)
What is unfolding here? Did all of the Republican legislators and governors participate in a nationwide mindmeld and automatically come up with the same demeaning, discriminatory, and unconstitutional ideas? Of course not. With anti-worker, anti-immigrant, pro-privatization legislation, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) provided State Legislatures and Governors with model laws (and economic incentives to pass them). In the women’s health arena, ALEC’s evil anti-choice twin, Americans United for Life (AUL) provides the model laws (and the money).
We have a battle on our hands. From AlterNet…
As a recent Guttmacher Institute study reminds us, the ground has shifted in a significant way thanks to this legislative assault. “In 2000, the country was almost evenly divided, with nearly a third of American women of reproductive age living in states solidly hostile to abortion rights, slightly more than a third in states supportive of abortion rights and close to a third in middle-ground states,” Guttmacher director of policy analysis Rachel Benson Gold said in a statement announcing the report. “By 2011, however, more than half of women of reproductive age lived in hostile [to abortion] states. This growth came largely at the expense of the states in the middle, and the women who live in them; in 2011, only one in 10 American women of reproductive age lived in a middle-ground state.” [Emphasis added.]
So, why are Republicans attacking women’s rights? Just a few short months ago, after women, Latinos, African Americans, and gays overwhelming elected Barack Obama in 2012, the Republican Party did a self-assessment. Realizing that alienating every group except white men, corporatists, and the military-industrial complex isn’t a long-term winning strategy, Republicans publicly said they were going to stop being so overtly nasty and controlling to the rest of us. The Republican Party would become kinder and gentler. Well, that did’t last long now, did it? Besides the anti-woman bills, look at what’s happening with immigration “reform”, food stamps, pork for the Pentagon, Social Security cuts, student loan interest rate increases, and voter suppression bills.
Again, why are they doing this? Two reasons often given for restricting abortion and women’s healthcare are: 1) all life is sacred and 2) it costs too much money. Neither of these reasons has any basis in fact. If all life is sacred, why do Republicans vote to cut food stamps and social safety net programs that specifically help poor children? Why do they back mandatory sentencing. the death penalty, and war? If states want to save money, why are they passing laws that increase expenditures on Medicaid births– as Texas has? Across the board in medicine, prevention is cheaper than treatment. Preventing unwanted pregnancies through contraception and education (of men and women) is far more cost-effective than subsidizing unwanted births and long-term poverty programs to help unwed mothers. Given that these reasons have no basis in fact, why are Republicans passing anti-woman laws at break-neck speed? Here are some ideas…
Pandering to the Religious Right. For fundamentalist Christians, abortion is their battle. They see themselves as “Christian Soldiers marching off to war,” as the old hymn goes. Politicians– like Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Martha McSally, Mitt Romney, and Sam Brownback– claim to be among those Christian Soldiers, but we know that politicians are all about power, money, and re-election– not morality. The Christian right is being duped by politicians and their corporate masters.
Distracting the Left. Despite the fact that abortion was legalized in 1973, socially conservative Republicans have been able to keep the public, the media, and their pro-choice opponents distracted with this issue and keep abortion in the headlines. Think about it. If activist women are pulled into the pro-choice fight again and again, they won’t be able to devote as much time as they would like to on other important social justice issues, like poverty, immigration reform, banking reform, privatization, corporate personhood, voter suppression, and more.
Wasting Financial Resources. Many of the anti-abortion bills will not survive court challenges. Arizona’s and Idaho’s 20-week abortion ban laws already have been struck down as unconstitutional. From Mother Jones…
The judges wrote that Arizona “may not deprive a woman of the choice to terminate her pregnancy at any point prior to viability,” echoing the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade 40 years ago that abortion should be legal up to the point that a fetus is can survive outside of the womb, which is usually construed as 24 weeks.
So, why are these other states passing similar — or worse– laws? Each time an unconstitutional law is passed, Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others mount court challenges. With 106 bills passing in 2013 and hundreds more being debated, it will take millions of dollars to fight this ground war. Lefties who donate to these groups don’t have the deep corporate pockets that the right wing does. These unnecessary court battles also waste state funds. How can small-government Republicans justify wasting taxpayer money to protect unconstitutional laws that deny services to more than half of the population and over-regulate legal businesses?
Saving Money for Employers and Insurance Companies. This is the BIG reason Republicans are fighting to restrict abortion, contraception, and women’s healthcare. Just think how billions of dollars corporate giants like the Koch Brothers, WalMart, Bank of America, or General Motors could save if they didn’t have to provide insurance plans that cover these reproductive health basic services that millions of American women use? They’re going after abortion now, but access to affordable contraception also has been under attack in states like Arizona. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that studies reproductive health and sexualityThere are 62 million American women who are sexually active and don’t want to become pregnant, and more than 99 percent of sexually active American women have used at least one type of birth control in their lives.
Suppressing of Women. The bottomline is that it is all about money and power. Perry and other anti-abortion zealots paint this fight as a religious war to protect the unborn. This is hogwash. The War on Women’s reproductive rights is a war of suppression. It is well known that young single mothers– especially teenage mothers– are more likely to live in poverty and less likely to graduate from high school, let along go to college. It is also well known that educating women and mothers leads to fewer unwanted pregnancies and better health for the mothers and their children. Saddling women with unwanted pregnancies, reduced educational opportunities, and potentially life-long poverty is simply a way to control and suppress women. Period.This is a political power play to keep women in their places– not a religious war.
This battle is not going away any time soon. The old white men leading this anti-woman charge are not going to win. In the 2012 election, ALL of the “let’s redefine rape” Republicans were thrown out of office. Women– the ballot box is our strongest defense– but we must look beyond playing whack-a-mole at the grassroots level on abortion. At the state level, passing independent redistricting (to end gerrymandering) and at the federal level, passing universal, single-payer healthcare and a Constitutional Amendment that ends corporate personhood and denies that money equals speech are long-term strategies that will reduce the power of right-wing extremists and help the feminist struggle for affordable reproductive healthcare.