The Campaign Against Women
Despite the persistent gender gap in opinion polls and mounting criticism of their hostility to women’s rights, Republicans are not backing off their assault on women’s equality and well-being. New laws in some states could mean a death sentence for a pregnant woman who suffers a life-threatening condition. But the attack goes well beyond abortion, into birth control, access to health care, equal pay and domestic violence.
Republicans seem immune to criticism. In an angry speech last month, John Boehner, the House speaker, said claims that his party was damaging the welfare of women were “entirely created” by Democrats. Earlier, the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, sneered that any suggestion of a G.O.P. “war on women” was as big a fiction as a “war on caterpillars.”
But just last Wednesday, Mr. Boehner refuted his own argument by ramming through the House a bill that seriously weakens the Violence Against Women Act. That followed the Republican push in Virginia and elsewhere to require medically unnecessary and physically invasive sonograms before an abortion, and Senate Republicans’ persistent blocking of a measure to better address the entrenched problem of sex-based wage discrimination.
On Capitol Hill and in state legislatures, Republicans are attacking women’s rights in four broad areas.
ABORTION On Thursday, a House subcommittee denied the District of Columbia’s Democratic delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, a chance to testify at a hearing called to promote a proposed federal ban on nearly all abortions in the District 20 weeks after fertilization. The bill flouts the Roe v. Wade standard of fetal viability.
Seven states have enacted similar measures. In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a law that bans most abortions two weeks earlier. Each measure will create real hardships for women who will have to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy before learning of major fetal abnormalities or risks to their own health.
These laws go a cruel step further than the familiar Republican attacks on Roe v. Wade. They omit reasonable exceptions for a woman’s health or cases of rape, incest or grievous fetal impairment. These laws would require a woman seeking an abortion to be near death, a standard that could easily delay medical treatment until it is too late.
All contain intimidating criminal penalties, fines and reporting requirements designed to scare doctors away. Last year, the House passed a measure that would have allowed hospitals receiving federal money to refuse to perform an emergency abortion even when a woman’s life was at stake. The Senate has not taken up that bill, fortunately.
ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE Governor Brewer also recently signed a bill eliminating public funding for Planned Parenthood. Arizona law already barred spending public money on abortions, which are in any case a small part of the services that Planned Parenthood provides. The new bill denies the organization public money for nonabortion services, like cancer screening and family planning, often the only services of that kind available to poor women.
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and the state’s Republican-dominated Legislature tried a similar thing in 2011, and were sued in federal court by a group of clinics. The state argues that it is trying to deny money to organizations that “promote” abortions. That is nonsense. Texas already did not give taxpayer money for abortions, and the clinics that sued do not perform abortions.
Last year, the newly installed House Republican majority rushed to pass bills (stopped by the Democratic-led Senate) to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood and Title X. That federal program provides millions of women with birth control, lifesaving screening for breast and cervical cancer, and other preventive care. It is a highly effective way of preventing the unintended pregnancies and abortions that Republicans claim to be so worried about.
EQUAL PAY Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, the epicenter of all kinds of punitive and regressive legislation, signed the repeal of a 2009 law that allowed women and others to bring lawsuits in state courts against pay discrimination, instead of requiring them to be heard as slower and more costly federal cases. It also stiffened penalties for employers found guilty of discrimination.
He defended that bad decision by saying he did not want those suits to “clog up the legal system.” He turned that power over to his government, which has a record of hostility toward workers’ rights.
President Obama has been trying for three years to update and bolster the 1963 Equal Pay Act to enhance remedies for victims of gender-based wage discrimination, shield employees from retaliation for sharing salary information with co-workers, and mandate that employers show that wage differences are job-related, not sex-based, and driven by business necessity.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE Last month, the Senate approved a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, designed to protect victims of domestic and sexual abuse and bring their abusers to justice. The disappointing House bill omits new protections for gay, Indian, student and immigrant abuse victims that are contained in the bipartisan Senate bill. It also rolls back protections for immigrant women whose status is dependent on a spouse, making it more likely that they will stay with their abusers, at real personal risk, and ends existing protections for undocumented immigrants who report abuse and cooperate with law enforcement to pursue the abuser.
Whether this pattern of disturbing developments constitutes a war on women is a political argument. That women’s rights and health are casualties of Republican policy is indisputable.