The Right-Wing War On Women’s Rights

As states around the country wrap up their legislative sessions, it’s a good time to assess what their priorities have been. Republicans swept into power last November on a platform of economic populism, vowing to do their part to help the millions of American families struggling in the wake of the worst recession in 80 years. Instead, they’ve focused relentlessly on a narrow set of social issues — in particular, scaling back women’s reproductive rights and family planning services. The consequences of the GOP’s war on women have been nothing short of disastrous, jeopardizing access to basic health care for millions of American women. According to the Guttmacher Institute, states enacted a record number of anti-abortion laws in the first six months of 2011 alone. The 80 abortion restrictions passed this year are more than double the previous record of 34 in 2005 — and more than triple the 23 enacted in 2010. Meanwhile, five states have defunded Planned Parenthood, which one in four American women have relied on for health care. To top it all off, fringe proposals are rapidly seeping into the political mainstream, with several states backing “fetal personhood” laws that effectively outlaw contraceptives like birth control pills and criminalize women who miscarry.

ABORTION ABOVE ALL ELSE: GOP-controlled state legislatures have been doing everything in their power to impede women’s constitutional right to abortion services. Kansas almost became the first abortion-free state when Republicans tried to shut down the three remaining abortion clinics. Ohio banned abortions after 20 weeks and could soon reconsider the most radical anti-abortion bill in the nation — a “heartbeat bill” that would ban abortions as early as six weeks without exceptions for rape or incest. Texas was facing its worst budget crisis in modern history — which Gov. Rick Perry (R) conveniently used as an excuse to fast-track anti-abortion legislation he deemed “emergency priorities.” Texas now requires women seeking abortions to receive a medically unnecessary sonogram at least 24 hours before an abortion and hear a description of the fetus. Indiana politicians wanted doctors counseling pregnant women to read from a script that would give them medically false information about the non-existent link between abortion and breast cancer. All of these bills are scare tactics designed to shame and dissuade women from making their own decisions. The result is that pregnant women are required by law to be lectured to and must jump through numerous hoops to receive an abortion. Abortion has become virtually illegal in at least 10 states as a result of the GOP’s ideological fixation.

PERSECUTING PLANNED PARENTHOOD: In their crusade to stop all abortions, Republican legislators have been willing to sacrifice almost anything — including women’s access to basic health care. The GOP has singled out Planned Parenthood for destruction, despite the fact that 97 percent of their services are not abortion-related. Planned Parenthood provides essential health care to 3 million women in the U.S. annually, including cancer screenings, birth control, and STD testing. They are already barred by law from receiving federal funds for abortion services, but Republican lawmakers were so determined to make a political point they voted to defund the organization in Indiana, Kansas, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Texas. This does nothing to reduce the number of abortions but does jeopardize the physical health of millions and the economic health of the state. It all started in Indiana, where Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) betrayed his call for Republicans to have a truce on social issues and signed a law banning organizations that perform abortions from receiving federal Medicaid money. Since this is a violation of Indiana’s Medicaid agreement with the federal government, the Department of Health and Human Services said Indiana could lose all of its Medicaid funding. Daniels said he was willing to forfeit $4.3 billion that helps poor, uninsured residents. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker pushed through a budget defunding Planned Parenthood without a single Democratic vote. The decision denies preventative health care to 12,000 women who don’t have health insurance and jeopardizes BadgerCare, the state’s family planning program (which is now in violation of federal law and could lose all funding). BadgerCare saves Wisconsin nearly $140 million a year and prevented 11,064 unplanned pregnancies in 2008. By denying so many residents access to preventive care, Wisconsin and other states are predicted to experience an increase in unintended pregnancies, the spread of STDs, and a rise in undetected and untreated cervical and breast cancer cases — “all of which would then cost the state millions of dollars in future medical costs.”

MAKING WOMEN CRIMINALS: The creeping criminalization of women’s reproductive rights has reached a tipping point, with some groups and lawmakers even pushing to outlaw contraceptives like birth control pills. Extremist anti-abortion groups have been startlingly successful at pushing forward legislation across the country that would redefine life as beginning at the moment of fertilization, which could turn common forms of birth control into the legal equivalent of homicide. Contraceptives that act to prevent fertilization would be considered tantamount to abortion, making it a punishable offense for women to control their own fertility. Also in legal jeopardy are the millions of women whose fertilized eggs never begin dividing, never implant, or implant but spontaneously abort, often so early the woman never knows she might have been pregnant. This year, the Georgia legislature considered a bill that would require women to prove their miscarriages “occurred naturally” and weren’t secret abortions. Other southern states are following their lead and charging dozens of women with murder or other serious crimes after they have miscarried or had stillbirths. Women who lost babies and are suspected of doing drugs while they are were pregnant face life in prison, even if there’s no evidence that drug use caused the miscarriage or stillbirth. Many women in Alabama and Mississippi deny they ever used drugs and are shocked to find themselves prosecuted in court after suffering the pain of losing a child. Meanwhile, fetal homicide laws that were designed to protect pregnant women and their unborn children against violent attacks from third parties are now being used to attack childbearers themselves. In South Carolina, only one case has been brought against a man for assaulting a pregnant woman, while up to 300 women have been arrested under the law. Lynn Paltrow, a representative from the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, observes, “Women are being stripped of their constitutional personhood and subjected to truly cruel laws. It’s turning pregnant women into a different class of person and removing them of their rights.” Indeed, that seems to be exactly what Republicans are aiming for — stripping women of their constitutional right to control their own bodies.

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