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Damsels in Distress

Back in the 1950s, women occupied a subservient place in society. Yes, there was a certain understanding that without women, men would be hopelessly unable to take care of themselves (an understanding that persists today and is, quite frankly, as objective as the old stereotypes that women are inferior drivers and unable to vote properly because they’ll always vote for the “cute” guy.

In the 60s and up through the last forty years or so, women began to demand changes, ranging from the ability to choose a career and be paid comparably for it (a change that has yet to actually occur even though it’s been mandated legally), the ability to control what happens to their own bodies and deny an unwanted pregnancy from reaching term if they choose to, and the right essentially to live with the same rights and privileges as men do. Not all of the things that the women’s movement has worked for has come to pass, and some of them have carried with them unforeseen consequences, but women have come a long way, baby.

But the pendulum seems to be swinging. There seems to be a move on the part of the radical right to erode the rights of women. Bill Maher has described this as a War on Women and while I think that might be a little overly dramatic (as election years will do), the sentiment isn’t far off. I’m not sure why the right think that alienating a large chunk of the voters as young to middle aged women comprise is going to win them the election, but I suppose it can be chalked up to taking an ideological stand.

So there are bills being raised by state legislatures (often encouraged by Tea Party governors) that will require women to get sonograms before they can get an abortion. Seven states so far have passed this bill – Texas, Alabama, Florida, Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. An eight state’s bill (North Carolina) was also passed but is awaiting the outcome of a legal challenge. State governor Bob McConnell of Virginia and State Senator Clay Scofield of Alabama had also introduced legislature to require women to get the extremely invasive transvaginal ultrasound before getting an abortion, which requires the insertion of an eight to ten inch wand into their most intimate parts. After public outcry, the two politicians withdrew their bills but still the other legislation remains that women before being able to get their abortions must listen to the heartbeat of the fetus and listen to the doctor give them a clinical report of the status of the fetus.

I can understand wishing those young girls who use abortion as a means of birth control to think twice about what they’re doing. I can also imagine the agony of a woman who is electing to abort a very-much wanted fetus because severe birth defects have been detected listen to a litany of the medical condition of the baby she’s already made a heart-rending decision to abort as is what happened to Carolyn Jones in Texas.

There is no medical reason to force a sonogram on a woman before performing an abortion. There is also no good ethical reason to force a woman to listen to a baby’s heartbeat before aborting it – it verges on the cruel. In some states, the woman can opt out of listening to the sonogram but in others she has no choice. It’s clearly an attempt of Bible Belt states to legislate Christian morality, and I find it heinous and disgusting. Can you imagine the outcry if Jewish lawmakers in New York enacted laws to force men to cover their heads and wear long beards? I find it ironic – and hypocritical – that decisions about the reproductive rights of women are often being decided solely by men, often without any input whatsoever from women or medical professionals. And as for taxpayers paying for contraception, that is a complete and whole-cloth fabrication. The only medical  care that taxpayers fund is Medicare and Medicaid and those who qualify for those programs are in nearly every case past or nearly past the childbearing years. What is being fought for is for employer-funded insurance programs to pay for it or at least reduce the costs for it.

I also find it incredibly self-righteous and hypocritical that hysterics who think that abortion should be illegal and that every pregnancy should be brought to term are the same bastards who are cutting funds for child care programs, housing programs, educational programs and school lunch programs that these unwanted children would desperately need once born. You’re literally damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

High-profile figures in the right – including commentator Rush Limbaugh and former Presidential candidate Rick Santorum have made disparaging remarks about women seeking contraception as part of their health care plans. In fact, Limbaugh went so far as to say these women are “sluts” – as if enjoying pre-marital sex is somehow solely the province of men because as we all know, if a woman is in need of birth control, the reason is in all likelihood that she’s having sex with a man – who doesn’t receive the same sort of disdain for being sexually active than a woman does. Let’s hear it for the double standard, shall we?

Despite the leading title of this essay, women are strong enough and smart enough to fight their own battles. However, I think that it is time for feminists and those who support them to return back to the front lines because the battle for women’s rights is far from over and in fact, we are in danger of actually losing ground that had been gained thanks in large part to the activists of the 70s and 80s.

Standing with women in defense of their rights is as necessary as standing with gay, lesbian and transgendered in acquiring their rights, and as necessary as standing with African-Americans and Latino-Americans in defense of their rights. We owe the women of this country our support and respect, the latter of which seems to be eroding by the minute.

I’m not advocating tax-funded abortions or contraceptives here – only that women who elect to get those things are able to get them without the interference of state legislatures, moral crusaders or politicians looking to appeal to the Christian right. It is that right that Roe vs. Wade granted women forty years ago – and a right that is in danger of being dismantled by a determined opposition.


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