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Carolyn Maloney

Carolyn Maloney

Posted: March 16, 2011 03:12 PM

A Forced March for American Women: Back to the 19th Century


Right now, in the halls of Congress and in state legislative bodies around the country, there is a calculated and cynical attempt underway to force the women of America to march in lockstep back to the 19th century when it comes to their choices, their rights, and their health care. And those who aren't frightened by this prospect, may not be paying close attention.

Consider this:

In Georgia a bill has been introduced that would make miscarriages a felony if the mother cannot prove there was no "human involvement." Anyone convicted under this law could face the death penalty or life behind bars. Given the fact that as many as 20% percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, imagine what a zealous right wing prosecutor could do with a law like this.

In Texas a bill has been proposed that would ban all abortions unless a physician certifies that the woman's life was at risk. It would not permit abortions in the case of rape or incest. Such a law would give the state the cruel and invasive power to compel a woman to bear an attacker's child, and force victims of incest, however young, however fragile, to bear their own siblings.

Though these two bills are not likely to make it into law at this time, they are emblematic of efforts by far right-wing elected officials all across the country to set women's rights back to the 19th century.

In South Dakota a bill is now awaiting the Governor's signature that apparently assumes too many women undergo an abortion on a mere passing whim. The law would require women to wait 72 hours before going through with the procedure.The bill also requires women to undergo counseling at a "pregnancy help center," which pro-choice advocates say are often run by anti-abortion groups. The bill gives the state the coercive power to compel intelligent, well educated, fully informed women to undergo this "counseling" whether they want it or not.

Indiana has a proposed bill that would require a pregnant woman wishing to terminate her pregnancy to view a fetal ultrasound image, unless the pregnant woman states in writing that she doesn't want to see it. This bill would give the state the power to compel a woman to undergo a medical procedure that for some pregnancies would require an invasive vaginal ultrasound probe - whether the woman, the teenager, or the victim of domestic violence, wants the procedure or not. Despite new polls showing that a clear majority of Americans support a woman's right to choose in most or all circumstances, 11 states are now considering legislation to require women to see an ultrasound and 16 states already have such laws.

And in the US Congress:

HR 358 would allow medical providers to decline to perform a life-saving abortion or to transfer the woman to another facility that will. Some critics are understandably calling this bill the "Let Women Die Act."

And the Pence Amendment would strip Planned Parenthood of all federal funding. According to their 2008-2009 annual report, Planned Parenthood conducted one million pap tests, 830,000 breast examinations and 4 million STD tests. Government grants currently make up about 33% of Planned Parenthood's revenue. So, do the math. Take away all that federal funding, and all the cancer screenings, and all the AIDS tests and all the medical care that those funds would otherwise provide, and how many women do you estimate will suffer or die, simply for lack of such basic care?

And mind you, all these new coercive powers that would be granted to the government, all these intrusions into the most private aspects of women's intimate lives, all these forced procedures, are being pushed by those very same people who have decried what they call government's intrusion into people's lives.

And all these unwanted medical procedures are being thrust upon women by those who moan the loudest that we must get health care costs under control.

And all this legislative time and energy is being spent on divisive social issues that will not help create a single job, do anything to expand the economy, control health care costs or improve our lives.

Roe vs. Wade, the landmark case on abortion, was decided in 1973. In writing the majority opinion, Justice Blackmun noted that disputes over abortion had ancient roots, but: "at the time of the adoption of our Constitution, and throughout the major portion of the 19th century... a woman enjoyed a substantially broader right to terminate a pregnancy than she does in most States today." Meaning, of course, 1973.

Blackmun also noted that restrictive abortion statues have their origins, for the most part, in the latter half of the 19th century. Which is just where the extreme right wing of the Republican party would take women today. On a forced march right back to the 19th century.

Instead of dealing with the issues that Americans say they care about the most, the economy and job creation, the far right is focusing its energy on setting back the rights of women to the standards of the 19th century. Maybe they just plain forgot about an important 20th century development. Women got the right to vote. It's time to tell the right wing loud and clear that women matter. Their choices matter. Their health care matters. Their lives matter. Join your voice with others, and sign the Women Matter petition -- and let's not let them forget for one minute that women matter.