War on Women
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War on Women is an expression in United States politics, used to describe Republican Party initiatives in federal and state legislatures that restrict women's rights, especially with regard to reproductive rights. Prominent Democrats and feminists have used the phrase to criticize conservative positions. Additional uses refer to legislative initiatives regarding the following: access to reproductive health services, particularly birth control and abortion services; how violence against women is prosecuted; how rape is defined for purposes of public funding of abortion for rape victims; how workplace discrimination against women is treated; and litigation concerning equal pay for women. The term is often used when targeting policies that reduce or eliminate taxpayer funding for women's health organizations, like Planned Parenthood. Other areas of concern include public funding and mandatory employer insurance coverage of such matters as contraception and sterilization.
The phrase and the concept have been criticized by Republicans, including the Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, who described it as a fiction created by Democrats and the media, as if suggesting that Republicans had a "war on caterpillars". Other Republicans countered that the rhetoric was used as a distraction from President Barack Obama and the Democrats' handling of the economy.
Development of the term
Feminist Susan Faludi's 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, argued that throughout the 1980s the media created a "backlash" against the feminist advances of the 1970s. Former Republican political consultant Tanya Melich's 1996 memoir, The Republican War Against Women: An Insider's Report from Behind the Lines, describes the incorporation of the Pro-life movement and opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment by Republicans as a divergence with feminist causes.
George W. Bush's administration met with resistance from feminists and women's rights activists throughout his Presidency. In 2004 The Feminist Press published Laura Flanders' collection of essays The W Effect: Bush's War On Women. In 2006 economist Barbara Finlay's critique of the Bush administration's treatment of women was published by Zed Books under the title George W. Bush and the War on Women: Turning Back the Clock on Progress.
In the 2010 midterm elections, the Republican Party won the majority in the House of Representatives. On January 4, 2011, the day after Congress convened, Kaili Joy Gray of the liberal Daily Kos wrote an opinion piece entitled "The Coming War on Women." In the article, she outlined many of the measures that Republicans intended to push through the House of Representatives, including personhood laws, fetal pain laws, and the effort to defund Planned Parenthood; this effort amounting to a "War on Women". In February 2011, New York Representative Jerrold Nadler referred to the proposed No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, one of the Congress's first actions and one that would have changed policy to allow only victims of "forcible rape" or child sex abuse to qualify for Medicaid funding for abortion, as "an entirely new front in the war on women and their families." Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz began using the term "War on Women" in March 2011.
2011 and 2012 have seen an unprecedented rise in the passage of provisions related to women's health and reproductive rights. State legislatures across the United States introduced 1100 provisions restricting women's reproductive rights in 2011. The first quarter of 2012 saw an additional 944 provisions introduced in state legislatures, half of which would restrict access to abortion. Legislation has focused on mandatory ultrasounds, narrowing the time when abortions may be performed and limiting insurance coverage of abortion.
Democratic strategist and rape survivor Zerlina Maxwell wrote an editorial for U.S. News & World Report in which she cited a Guttmacher Institute analysis showing state legislatures enacted 135 pieces of legislation affecting women's reproductive rights as evidence that the "Republican 'War on Women' is no fiction." The analysis found that between 2000 and 2011, the number of states hostile to abortion rights have increased markedly, and that in 2011 there was an unprecedented rise in the number of provisions passed by state legislatures restricting abortion.
Many states have adopted model legislation written by Americans United for Life, a pro-life advocacy group. In June 2011, Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United, wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal addressing the loss of federal funding that Indiana faced for having "declared war on women."
In 2011 and 2012, many states passed legislation requiring that women seeking abortions first undergo government-mandated ultrasounds. Some states require that women view the image of the fetus and others require that women be offered the opportunity to listen to the fetal heartbeat. Since many women's pregnancies are not far enough along to get an image via a traditional ultrasound, transvaginal ultrasounds, which involve the physician inserting a probe into the woman's vagina, are required. Critics have questioned the value of having a medically unnecessary procedure, and characterized it as similar to some states' legal definition of rape. Writer Megan Carpentier underwent the procedure and indicated that although it was not comparable to being raped, the process was "uncomfortable to the point of being painful, emotionally triggering... and something that no government should force its citizens to undergo to make a political point."
Iowa politicians proposed the "Women's Right to Know" bill in January 2012, which would require that a woman undergo an ultrasound and be asked if she would like to see an image of the fetus and listen to its heartbeat prior to receiving an abortion.
Virginia State legislators passed a bill in 2012 requiring women to have an ultrasound before having an abortion. The legislation, signed by Governor Bob McDonnell, would require that the provider of an abortion make a copy of the fetal image and include it in the file of the patient.
In Louisiana, where pregnant women are already required to view ultrasounds of their fetuses before receiving an abortion, lawmakers proposed a bill that would require them to listen to the embryonic/fetal heartbeat as well.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett drew criticism when he said of his state's new mandatory transvaginal ultrasound law that "You can't make anybody watch, okay? Because you just have to close your eyes. As long as it's on the exterior and not the interior."
Gestational limits on abortion
In June 2013, Representative Trent Franks of Arizona, passed a national bill in the House Judiciary Committee that would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. The bill did not include exceptions for rape, incest or health of the mother. In responding to the bill's lack of exception for rape victims, Franks stated that "the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low," which was compared to the controversial statements made by Todd Akin. After the controversial statements, the House Rules Committee added exceptions for rape and incest.
Georgia legislators passed HB 954, a "fetal pain bill" criminalizing abortions performed after the 20th week of pregnancy. The bill, which does not contain exemptions for rape or incest, has been referred to as the "women as livestock bill" by opponents after Representative Terry England made a comparison between women seeking abortions for stillborn fetuses to delivering calves and pigs on a farm.
In April 2012, Arizona passed legislation banning abortions occurring 20 weeks after a woman's last menstrual period. A judge from the District Court initially upheld this ban, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August 2012 that the ban could not be enforced until an appeal on the law had been decided. The Ninth Circuit then struck down the law as unconstitutional in May 2013.
Eight other states, including Nebraska, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho and Oklahoma, have passed such bills; unlike Arizona, the gestational age in these states is calculated from fertilization (20 weeks post-fertilization-which means 22 weeks LMP),
In 2013, Idaho's ban was struck down as unconstitutional by a federal judge.
States such as Ohio have proposed so-called "heartbeat bills" that would prohibit abortions when the heartbeat of the fetus can be detected. Fetal heartbeats can be detected as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
Defining the beginning of human personhood
Voters in Mississippi rejected Initiative 26 in 2011, a measure that would have declared that human life begins at fertilization. Critics of the initiative indicated that the law would have made abortion illegal even in cases where the mother’s life is in danger.
Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers
Since the mid-1990s, politicians have passed legislation designed to increase the regulatory burden of abortion providers. TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) have been passed in numerous states and have led to a de facto ban on abortions in Mississippi and Alabama.
In February 2011, South Dakota state legislators considered a bill that would change that state's definition of justifiable homicide to allow the killing of abortion providers. Similar legislation was considered in Iowa.
Several state legislatures have passed or are considering legislation to prevent parents from suing doctors who fail to warn them of fetal problems, which are sometimes known as wrongful birth lawsuits. Some of the laws, such as one proposed in Arizona, make exceptions for "intentional or grossly negligent acts", while others do not.
In April 2012, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed into law a bill requiring doctors who prescribe the medical abortion pill to have three meetings with patients or be subject to felony charges. Planned Parenthood suspended non-surgical abortions in the state.
On January 20, 2012, Health and Human Services' Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced a mandate requiring that all health plans provide coverage for all contraceptives approved by the FDA as part of preventive health services for women. Following complaints from Catholic bishops, an exception was created for religious institutions whereby an employee of a religious institution that does not wish to provide reproductive health care can seek it directly from the insurance company at no additional cost. Missouri Senator Roy Blunt proposed an amendment (the Blunt Amendment) that would have "allowed employers to refuse to include contraception in health care coverage if it violated their religious or moral beliefs," but it was voted down 51-48 by the U.S. Senate on March 1, 2012. A bill passed by the Arizona House would allow employers to exclude medication used for contraceptive purposes from their health insurance plans.
In February 2012, Republican Congressman Darrell Issa convened an all-male panel addressing contraceptive mandates for health insurers. He did not allow Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University Law Center student, to participate in the hearing. Democratic Representatives then staged a separate panel where Fluke was allowed to speak. Later that month, American conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh controversially called Sandra Fluke a "slut" and "prostitute" and continued in similar fashion for the next two days. Foster Friess, the billionaire supporting the candidacy of Rick Santorum, suggested in February 2012 that women put aspirin between their knees as a form of contraception. Limbaugh echoed the sentiment, saying he would "buy all of the women at Georgetown University as much aspirin to put between their knees as they want." Nancy Pelosi circulated a petition and asked that Republicans in the House of Representatives disavow the comments by Friess and Limbaugh, which she called "vicious and inappropriate."
Defunding Planned Parenthood
The legislative policy initiative described as a War on Women has included a drive to eliminate state and federal funding for Planned Parenthood. February 2011 saw House Republicans pass legislation designed to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. Texas, Indiana and Kansas have passed legislation in an effort to defund the organization. Arizona, Ohio and New Hampshire are considering similar legislation. In Texas, lawmakers reduced funds for family planning from $111M to $37M. The future of the Women's Health Program in Texas, which receives 90% of its funding from the federal government, is unclear. The Indiana legislature passed a bill restricting Medicaid funds for Planned Parenthood. Indiana Representative Bob Morris later referred to the Girl Scouts of the USA as a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood. In Kansas, where abortion doctor George Tiller was murdered in a church, the state's Department of Health and Environment maintains a 'Woman’s Right to Know' website with "4-D ultrasound video/audio" of fetuses. A 2011 Kansas statute cut funding to Planned Parenthood.
On January 31, 2012, breast cancer organization Susan G. Komen for the Cure stopped funding Planned Parenthood, citing a congressional investigation by Rep. Cliff Stearns and a newly created internal rule about not funding organizations under any federal, state or local investigation. Four days later, Komen's Board of Directors reversed the decision and announced that it would amend the policy to "make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political". Several top-level staff members resigned from Komen during the controversy.
Violence against women
In January 2011, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act moved to change how rape is treated when used to determine whether abortions qualify for Medicaid funding. Under the language of the bill, only cases of "forcible rape" or child sexual abuse would have qualified. Political activist groups Moveon.org and Emily's List charged that this constituted a Republican attempt to "redefine rape."
Unsuccessful Missouri Republican candidate to the U.S. Senate Todd Akin made controversial comments in August 2012 asserting (falsely) that women who are victims of "legitimate rape" rarely experience pregnancy from rape. While he issued an apology for his comments, they were widely criticized, and they sparked a renewed focus on Republican attitudes towards women and "shift[ed] the national discussion to divisive social issues that could repel swing voters rather than economic issues that could attract them".
There were multiple calls from Republicans for Akin to step down as nominee. The Washington Post reported a "stampede" of Republicans dissociating from Akin. NRSC chairman John Cornyn said the GOP would no longer provide him Senate election funding. A campaign spokesman for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan said both disagreed with Akin's position and would not oppose abortion in instances of rape. Ryan reportedly called Akin to advise him to step aside. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus warned Akin not to attend the upcoming 2012 Republican convention and said he should resign the nomination. He described Akin's comments as "biologically stupid" and "bizarre" and said that "This is not mainstream talk that he's referring to and his descriptions of whatever an illegitimate rape is."
Other Republican candidates in the 2012 election also created controversy with their comments on rape. Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, when discussing his opposition to exceptions on abortion bans in cases of rape, said, "I think even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen." Tom Smith, the Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, compared pregnancy from rape to pregnancy out of wedlock. Akin, Mourdock, and Smith all lost their races due to backlash from women voters.
The renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, which provides for community violence prevention programs and battered women's shelters, was fiercely opposed by conservative Republicans in 2012. The Act was originally passed in 1994 and has been reauthorized by Congress twice. Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, who has previously voted against renewal of the Act, said the bill was a distraction from a small business bill.
In October 2011, the City Council in Topeka, Kansas, facing a budget crisis, decriminalized domestic violence. This was meant to force Shawnee County to pay for the prosecution of perpetrators, since domestic violence was still covered under state laws. In the month before the repeal, eighteen people had been arrested and charged with domestic violence, but released because no government office would prosecute.
In February 2011, House Republicans proposed a budget that would cut $758 million from WIC, a federal assistance program for low-income pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and infants and children under the age of five.
Workplace and pay discrimination
In April 2012, Governor Scott Walker signed into law an act that repealed Wisconsin's Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which allowed workplace discrimination victims redress in state courts. The law was passed to address the large gap between the wages of men and women in Wisconsin. Republican State Senator Glenn Grothman said of the repeal, "You could argue that money is more important for men. I think a guy in their first job, maybe because they expect to be a breadwinner someday, may be a little more money-conscious." The repeal was criticized for reinforcing the gender pay gap, a recurrent theme in the struggle for women's rights. Law student Sandra Fluke wrote in opposition to the measure, highlighting legislation that supports equal pay for equal work, such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.
In a May 2012 Kaiser Family Foundation poll it was found that only a third of women believed there was a wide-scale effort to limit reproductive health, seen as disbelief in the War on Women. 76 percent of women believed there were efforts to "limit women's reproductive health choices and services" with 31 percent believing it to be wide-scale and 45 percent believing that certain groups are taking such actions. In the same poll, 42 percent of women have said they have taken some action in response to what they heard about regarding reproductive health issues.
Response from Republicans
Critics of the term have said that the War on Women does not exist and have suggested that it is a ploy to influence women voters. Reince Priebus, the Chairman of the RNC, referred to the War as a "fiction", saying "If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we'd have problems with caterpillars."
Republican Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers called the war a myth, saying "It’s an effort to drive a political wedge in an election year." Referring to the 2010 elections and Nancy Pelosi, she said that "It could be argued that the women actually unelected the first woman Speaker of the House."
Senator John McCain, when asked by journalist David Gregory if there was a Republican War on Women, said "I think that there is a perception out there because of how this whole contraception issue played out — ah, we need to get off of that issue, in my view."
Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski countered the criticism from her fellow party members, challenging them to "go home and talk to your wife and your daughters" if they did not think there was a war on women, saying "It makes no sense to make this attack on women."
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Women's rights|
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