Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The New War Against Women

by Mary Griggs

We are twelve years into the new millennium and the battle for women’s lives is still being fought across the nation. During the last election cycle a number of social conservatives won their races for political office. At the time, they claimed their focus would be on the economy. Almost universally, however, they've focused on trying to turn back the clock on advances of women's rights.

Here are some examples of the recent legislation:

On February 16, 2012, there was a hearing by the Oversight and Government Reform Committee regarding the Affordable Care Act, which concerned the availability for contraception through insurance. Not a single woman was called to testify and Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), refused to permit several women to be heard, even when asked to do so by other representatives on the committee. Of those permitted to testify, only two of the first nine people had any background in health services.

Anti-abortion activists in Virginia, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wisconsin and Mississippi have advanced “Personhood” acts/bills declaring that a fetus has the full legal rights of a person, beginning at fertilization. Such laws would make in-vitro fertilization, stem-cell research, the morning-after-pill and all abortions (medically necessary or not) illegal. It could also be interpreted to make standard birth control options such as the Nuva ring, the pill, IUDs, and birth control patches illegal. Democrat Vivian Watts in VA attempted to amend the bill in Virginia to specify that contraception would not be banned under the Personhood bill, but Republicans voted 64-34 against adding this amendment. Any abortion or even cases of miscarriage due to negligence could be charged as manslaughter or homicide.

Utah passed a bill, sponsored by Sen. Margaret Dayton (R), into law in February of 2010 that allows women to be criminally charged if they cannot prove a miscarriage was accidental. Women could be legally held responsible for miscarriages caused by “reckless behavior.” According to March of Dimes, as many as 40-50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage – most often before a woman misses a menstrual period or even knows she is pregnant. About 15% of recognized pregnancies will end in a miscarriage.

A similar bill was advanced in Georgia by Republican Bobby Franklin in 2010 and 2011, and is still under consideration in 2012. The bill would make miscarriage a crime unless the woman could prove that there was no human involvement in the miscarriage. All miscarriages would require a criminal investigation to determine culpability.

The Virginia legislature passed a bill on February 14, 2012, requiring all women seeking an abortion to undergo a medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound. Women are not allowed to opt out of this invasive procedure. Texas and Iowa have similar laws. Opponents to these laws have called it state-sanctioned rape because the women are vaginally penetrated without consent or the ability to refuse. Doctors also protest the bill, on the grounds that performing medically-unnecessary, invasive procedures constitutes a breach of ethics.

In October of 2011, the House passed a bill called the “Protect Life Act,” sponsored by Republican Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania. Known by its opponents as the “Let Women Die Act,” this bill allows hospitals to refuse abortions to women, even for women with life-threatening complications in need of an emergency abortion.

Are you getting angry yet?

Our feminist foremothers fought so that women could make their own choices about healthcare and contraception. This is not a new concept. Contraception is legal, ordinary, and accepted. Close to 97% of American women have used it at some point in their lives. Contraception is hardly a religious matter. Nowhere in Scripture is it forbidden. Furthermore, birth control is prescribed for many conditions other than preventing pregnancy such as fibroids, endometriosis and menorrhagia (heavy menstrual bleeding). Some forms of birth control can even lower a woman's risk of uterine and ovarian cancers.

Pregnancy, even for seemingly healthy women, poses serious health risks — risks that women should take on their own terms and at a time that is right for them and their family. There are many disorders in which women are recommended not to conceive including heart malformations, clotting or bleeding diseases, and chronic medical conditions, like multiple sclerosis. Despite advances in health care, Amnesty International reported in 2010 that deaths from pregnancy and childbirth in the United States have doubled during the past two decades.

The fight is not over. This is an election year. Raise your voice against the erosion of access to reproductive control. Make them hear us at the ballot box and, more importantly, in the halls of power. Reclaim your self respect and refuse to let anyone ignore our sex!

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