by Jan Baughman
(Swans - January 27, 2014) There was little celebration this week for the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the January 22, 1973, Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion and that still stands in principle, yet for all practical purposes has been quietly, forcefully, and deliberately weakened, particularly in the last decade. The attacks, obstacles, and barriers have come at every level, from defunding Planned Parenthood, whose primary service is providing health care, not abortion, to requiring parental and husband consent, implementing waiting periods, to requiring an intrusive transvaginal ultrasound so that the would-be perpetrator can view the "life" inside her. Abortion clinics and doctors are attacked. Late-term abortions are prohibited. Political litmus tests are mandatory. Women pay the price, not just with restricted access to abortion, but also to birth control, and life and death decisions.
President Obama sent a message to NARAL on last year's 40th anniversary, in which he said "We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to protecting a woman's access to safe, affordable health care and her right to reproductive freedom, because we know that we are better off as a nation when women are treated fairly and equally in every aspect in life, whether it's the salary you earn or the health decisions you make." One year later, Washington State Senator Patty Murray issued a statement that summarizes the current status: "As we mark the 41st anniversary of the historic Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, another type of history is being made. In 2013, our nation saw yet another record-breaking year of state legislatures passing restrictive legislation barring women's access to abortion services. In fact, in the past three years, the United States has enacted more of these restrictions than in the previous ten years. [...] And if this week's conversation being held by national Republicans is any indication, it appears the extreme right-wing of this country has no intention of letting up after their record-breaking year attacking women. To combat these misguided attempts we need to not only continue the fight to keep women in the driver's seat of their private decisions, but we must also continue investing in quality health care and education options, like those made possible through the Affordable Care Act, in order to prevent this deeply personal and troubling life decision too many women still have to make."
One groundbreaking aspect of the Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to cover birth control, in some cases without copays, a portion of the law that has sent conservatives reeling. Mike Huckabee, at this week's Republican National Committee luncheon to which Patty Murray refers, said that "if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government." In contrast, Republicans want to "empower them to be something other than victims of their gender." As Rick Santorum put it two years ago in his presidential bid, "[contraception is] not okay because it's a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be." The birth control mandate made its way to the Supreme Court courtesy of a group of Denver nuns who operate nursing homes and object to the requirement, which is currently on hold while it's under appeal. Meanwhile, to Huckabee, Santorum, and all the conservative white males who know what's best for women and their bodies, thanks for the empowerment.
One of the most egregious and disturbing attacks on a woman in the name of "life" is taking place in Fort Worth, Texas, where a hospital refused to take a legally dead woman, Marlise Muñoz, off of "life" support, despite her prior expressed wishes and against those of her husband and parents, because she was 14 weeks pregnant when she died of an apparent pulmonary embolism. Just as she was deprived of oxygen, so too was the fetus, whom the hospital admits is "distinctly abnormal." After weeks of agony and appeals by her family, a judge on Friday ruled that the woman is dead and must be taken off life support by Monday.
Two generations of women have been born since Roe v. Wade was passed, and the generations that fought to make it happen watch with horror as their rights erode and the war on women is systematically escalated by conservative white males. The time is long overdue for the new generations of women to fight back, and that fight starts at the election polls -- local, state, and national -- against those who wish to control our bodies and our lives. Rest assured, it is not women's best interest, or their unborn, that they have in mind. The last thing they want is for women to be empowered; after all, that threatens their power.
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