State legislatures launch their ‘War on Women’

Tomas Mega, U.S. correspondent     

Liberals thought the re-election of a Democratic President, a U.S. Senate majority and increasing Democratic numbers in the U.S. House of Representatives all meant good things for the rights of American women. 

Not so. With 30 states having Republican governors, and 27 states with Republican led legislatures, the post-2012 Presidential election cycle has begun with many state legislatures launching some of the most comprehensive assaults on the reproductive rights of women.  And it’s just not abortion that is in their crosshairs.  Restricting contraception, cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood, state mandated and medically unnecessary ultrasounds, and demands that women tell employers who provide their health insurance why they want birth control are all items on the minds of conservatives and conservative controlled state legislatures.

Abortion gets the bulk of media attention, with states like Arkansas and North Dakota having passed some of the most restrictive abortion laws in America.  Voters in North Dakota will decide on a ‘personhood’ amendment to the state constitution, which maintains that a fertilized egg has the same rights as a person.   Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky and other states have been advancing bills that would further restrict a women’s ability to make decisions regarding her reproductive life.

But it doesn’t end there.  Even after a women died in hospital in Ireland because doctors refused to provide a life-saving abortion, the Michigan state senate passed a bill that could allow hospitals to use religion to discriminate in providing health care services, including emergencies.  In Texas, 50 family planning clinics have closed which were publically funded, providing services such as pap smears, cervical exams and contraception.

Planned Parenthood, a non-profit providing reproductive health and maternal and child health services, continues to be a target of Conservatives who want to end all Federal funding, because, according to Planned Parenthood’s own numbers, 3% of their services are abortion related.  What’s most bizarre about the attack on Planned Parenthood is that by law, Federal funds cannot be allocated to abortion services.  Conservatives seem intent on punishing women for 97% of the non-abortion health services Planned Parenthood provides with help from those Federal funds.

Republican legislature elation in attacking the rights of women has carried over to the National stage.  On March 15th, U.S. Senator Rand Paul, springtime’s hottest sweetheart of Conservative politics, introduced a bill titled the “Life at Conception” act.  The Senator’s office said that the bill would “implement equal protection under the 14th Amendment for the right to life of each born and unborn human.”

What should worry women regardless of their political affiliation is that these are not debates about public health policy.  They are rooted in politics.  As a Texas Republican legislator stated in 2012, what is happening are the objectives of Pro-Life legislatures.  Indeed. You get what you elect.

Men should worry too.  When women who cannot afford more children have more children, it affects everyone.  The cost of unplanned pregnancies is huge.  Sexually transmitted diseases increase, Medicaid costs increase, health care costs increase.  Such measures disproportionately affect the poor.  If you are one of the estimated 17 million women in the USA who do not have health insurance, loss of these publically funded services can be devastating.   Women and men both lose their ability to plan and decide on the size of their family.  Unwanted pregnancies bring more children into poverty-stricken families.

Other than legal battles over the constitutionality of such Draconian laws, there is little the Obama administration can do to impede state legislation.  And states like North Dakota, rolling in rich oil money revenues, are well positioned to undertake costly legal battles.  They have an estimated $2 billion dollar budget surplus, thanks to their oil wealth.

Conservatives may have lost the Presidential election and failed to gain control of the U.S. Senate, but their majority in state legislatures has encouraged them to discipline women, 55% of who voted for Barack Obama.

It is often said that all politics is ‘local.’  It is the dichotomy of American politics that the majority of Americans voted Democratic in a Presidential election, yet the preponderance of state legislatures are Republican controlled.  Until women recognize the importance and impact of local politics on their lives and their choices, the war on women seems destined to gain momentum.

 UPI Matthew Healey

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