Thursday, August 23, 2012

The War on Women, A Primer: Part One

Cops in riot gear prepare to meet anti-forced-ultrasound protestors in Virginia.

There has been a back and forth all campaign season about whether there is a War on Women.  Now setting aside the fact that the "War on" title is egregiously overused and somewhat inflammatory, the talk comes from somewhere.  There is a pretty well-acknowledged and consistent gender gap between our two parties.  Men lean right, women lean left.  But on top of that, are there reasons why, this year in particular, we hear about a War on Women?  Has something changed materially about the way Republicans are conducting themselves, or is it just a continuation of conservatives tending to favor policies that favor men over women?

1. The State of Abortion in 2012:

One side note on abortion politics that has been perplexing me this week, before launching into the abortion policy: this week it has become apparent that by getting rid of the rape and incest exceptions to proposed abortion bans the conventional wisdom is that you piss off some women.  I just want to underscore the fact that you also piss off a lot of men.  Men who think it's generally crazy for the state to force a rape victim to carry her rapist's offspring to term, and I suspect also those who have daughters.  

But back to abortion policy.

Has there been an uptick in anti-abortion bills and statutes?  Yes.

Basically, we have created an incredible mess of state laws pertaining to abortion.  Many of these state laws pretty clearly come right up to the edge of Casey v. Planned Parenthood (which created the test of asking "whether a state abortion regulation has the purpose or effect of imposing an 'undue burden,' which is defined as a 'substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.'") or go straight over the line of that case's test in an attempt to bait the Court or abortion rights advocates to challenge whether Roe v Wade is still the law of the land in the Roberts era.

But they also create all kinds of barriers to a supposedly legal procedure: from the mundane (timing limits), to the impractical (waiting periods that require two often long-distance trips to the clinic over a period of time), to the stupid (requiring doctors to lie about medically-inaccurate "risks" involved in abortion), to the cruel (forced, trans-vaginal ultrasounds - even for victims of rape and incest).  There are also laws that have gone after clinics that perform abortions, "trap" laws that are not technically supposed to be about banning abortion, but pertain only to abortion clinics and have unnecessarily stringent legal requirements.  One such law had effectively stopped all legal abortions in the state of Mississippi (or so a state lawmaker bragged), until a judge recently called the state on their failure to hide that they were aiming to ban abortion and temporarily blocked the law from taking effect.  It's so bad that some women in Texas are going to Mexico to get a drug that is known to induce abortion, without any medical advice.

A moment's focus on the forced trans-vaginal ultrasound bills which many of us find particularly repellant:  That became law in 8 states. There are eight states that require women to have medically unnecessary, physically-invasive ultrasounds - at their own cost - in order to obtain a legal procedure, (including Virginia - thank you, Governor Ultrasound!).  VP Candidate Paul Ryan?  He cosponsored the federal version of the forced ultrasound bill.

What About Federal Abortion Policy?  The Republican-controlled House's first three bills: 1. Continuing appropriations (making sure the government doesn't shut down), 2. "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act," and 3. "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act."   Pretty high on the priority list there.  The first jobs bill was number 6, if we're counting.  Paul Ryan cosponsored #3, btw, as well as 8 other anti-abortion bills. #3, btw, was the bill that tried to reduce the rape exception to "forcible rape."

Then there was the fact that funding for Planned Parenthood (not actual federal funding for abortion - that was already prohibited, but funding for Planned Parenthood's cancer screenings and preventative health care) was one of the main sticking points in the spending bills and the debt limit fight that lost us our credit rating - because the organization performs abortions, while the transportation and flood insurance bills fell prey to personhood and birth control amendments which stalled their progress (see below).

All of this speaks to priorities.  If Congress and state legislatures and Governors are spending so much time on abortion, when are they devoting time to economic stimulus and job-creation?  What about budget-balancing?  And if maintaining our credit rating is less important than eliminating Planned Parenthood funding for preventative care?  Priorities.

2. The State of Birth Control in 2012:

The federal birth control mandate (which one Republican Representative compared to Pearl Harbor and 9/11), as created by the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"), would save the average woman who uses birth control anywhere from $500-1,500/year.  In a time when women who have insurance pay on average 50% out of pocket for birth control, and in which women pay 68% more out-of-pocket for health care than men, this is a significant savings.  In addition, women admit to using birth control inconsistently (29%)  or putting off doctor's visits for birth control because of the prohibitive costs (24%).

Women pay a lot more for health insurance than men do At least, we do up until an important provision of Obamacare kicks in - in 2014 (one of its provisions prohibits insurance companies from charging more based gender - most of them do this now.  In fact, Obamacare is particularly good for women).  The cost of contraception is borne by women more than men, and it can cost a whole lot, particularly without insurance coverage.

A primer on the benefits to society of contraception - 

Consistent contraception use dramatically reduces the number of unintended pregnancies (which then reduces the number of potential abortions).

So Where Are the War on Women Policy Issues Here?  Most Republicans oppose the federal birth control mandate, because they say that A) they believe it interferes with religious institutions' religious freedom to be required to pay for the employer portion of health care policies for employees that cover birth control; and B) they don't want to pay for people to have sex without "consequences" (see, e.g. Rush Limbaugh's spectacularly offensive rant against law student Sandra Fluke).  They also want (pretty badly, apparently, since they've voted on it approximately 50 billion times - while not once on the president's jobs bill) to rescind Obamacare, which would then cost women significant money on health care.

The Birth Control Mandate Hearing that Launched a Thousand Angry-Girl Blog Entries, Tweets, and FB Posts.

And hey, did you know that Romney and Ryan both support legislation that would probably outlaw most hormonal forms of birth control, like the Pill and the IUD?  The proposal is called "personhood" and it would make a fertilized egg a person, legally.  This change in the law would not only outlaw all abortion and most birth control, it would also create serious legal problems for women dealing with ectopic pregnancies, and for those getting fertility treatments like IVF.  Personhood was rejected by voters in uber-conservative Mississippi last year, by a 55 percent vote.  Before that, it was rejected by voters in Colorado, twice.  It failed in the OK legislature.  It's potentially going to be on the ballot this year, in a couple of states, and VP Candidate Paul Ryan cosponsored the federal version of this legislation.

A personhood amendment stalled the flood insurance bill this year - going into hurricane season, after tying up the highway bill for weeks on birth control (both bills were finally rolled together with student loans and passed).

Phew.  Okay, as per usual, when I attempt a research project, it takes a long time to get the information I want, and write it up so that it makes sense.  So this exploration of the War on Women is now a two-parter.  Next week I'll delve into some other aspects of the War on Women, including: Equal Pay, VAWA, and Moms.

I'll wrap up this part with the summary of the ultrasound controversy from SNL, including the kicker from the Great Amy Poehler that I think sums up how a lot of us women are feeling right about now...

"Don't Tell Me What to Do!"

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