Back in the halcyon days immediately after the 2008 elections, Republicans, running scared from their defeat at the ballot box, invested some time in pretending to care about diversity. They loudly feted rising "stars" in the party like Michael Steele and Sarah Palin to showcase the GOP's -- theoretical -- inclusiveness and show that it was -- theoretically -- representative of everyone.
We should have known that the pretense of diversity was all an act. Now that they've retaken the House and state legislatures across the country, Republicans have made it a top priority to make sure their party returns to its traditional "white male only zone" philosophy.
To do this, they've launched a legislative attack on women.
This is not an exaggeration. The bills passing the House, one more radical than the next, are ostensibly about preventing women from exercising their right to choose, a well-known Republican goal, but in reality they don't even have the bad excuse of protecting fetuses. The GOP's latest efforts appear to be focused on attacking women with no particular rationale. Don't believe me? Let's do a quick legislative roundup of the misogynistic free-for-all that our government has devolved into:
First, there's H.R. 3, charmingly named the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. H.R. 3 would make the odious Hyde Amendment permanent, banning all Medicare or Medicaid money from being used to pay for abortions except in the case of rape or incest, as well as restrict federal subsidies for any health care plans that cover abortion, even if the cost of the abortion is paid entirely with private funds. As if attacking reproductive freedom wasn't enough, the original language of the bill also redefined rape, allowing the rape exemption to be applied only in cases of "forcible rape." This excluded women who had been drugged, were unconscious, date rape, and statutory rape.
Next in line is H.R. 358, the "Protect Life Act". That's in quotes the same way one would use quotes to talk about Glenn Beck's "intelligence," because the only thing this bill would do is endanger real lives of real women. It would allow hospitals to refuse to perform emergency abortions -- even if the woman would die without one.
Those two bills are still waiting on a vote in the House. But here's more conservative insanity that did actually pass: an amendment barring all Planned Parenthood centers from receiving federal funds. Again, the "protecting fetuses" excuse doesn't even work -- none of the federal money currently given to Planned Parenthood is used for abortions. Instead, it's used for providing vital health services like birth control, STI tests, and reproductive health exams. Planned Parenthood is sometimes the only provider of such services, particularly in low-income communities. 1.85 million low-income women each year get medical care from Planned Parenthood, but the House hasn't really thought about what might happen to them if the GOP succeeds in forcing Planned Parenthood to close their doors. In related news, the Republican budget proposal also completely slashes Title X, a federal grant program established in 1970 to provide contraceptives and sexual health services to low-income women, through which Planned Parenthood currently receives its federal money. Mike Pence, the Republican who championed both cuts, thinks that they are "fiscally responsible." No word on whether he thinks increasing welfare payments to pay for the unplanned pregnancies of low-income women who have had their reproductive freedom taken away is also "fiscally responsible."
State legislatures have traditionally been battlegrounds for choice, and this year, when they followed the national trend of moving shockingly far to the right, the battle is even tougher. Going through all the state-level attempts to restrict choice, from Ohio's bill banning abortion as early as 18 days after conception to Texas' sonogram requirement to Kansas' attempt at banning late-term abortions, would take too long and be too depressing. So let's hit the highlights; a proposed bill in South Dakota would legalize the murder of abortion providers by expanding the definition of "justifiable homicide" to include killings intended to prevent harm to a fetus.
To recap, the "pro-life" movement has proposed redefining rape, allowing pregnant women to die rather than have life-saving abortions, eliminating one of the biggest providers of reproductive health care and contraception, and, in one state, legalizing murder of doctors who perform abortions.
This is not about preventing abortions, because Congress has already done a very good job of preventing any federal money from funding abortions (which, by the way, is a privilege no other advocacy group enjoys; pacifists still have to fund war with their tax dollars). This is about an attack on the autonomy of women to force them to live in a climate of fear and uncertainty about their own reproductive choices.
But there is good news.
The language in H.R. 3 about redefining rape didn't survive the onslaught of activist outrage. Neither did the South Dakota murder bill. Despite electoral victories for the GOP in the midterm elections, these kind of anti-choice scare tactics only appeal to a small, reactionary portion of the American public. The rest of us are incensed -- incensed at the callous attack on female autonomy, incensed at the blatant disregard for the health of low-income women, and incensed that Republicans believe they can impose their misogynistic agenda on us with impunity.
They absolutely can't, and they've been put on notice. The massive online resistance, fueled by petitions like MoveOn.org's, garnered correspondingly massive media attention, which made the GOP back down from some of their most extreme proposals. We need to make sure we keep up the pressure. Call your Senators and tell them to vote "no" on any anti-choice, extremist legislation the House sends their way. Call your Representative and tell them that you will not be voting for them in the next election if they support any of this legislation. And speak out against the unconscionable attempts to defund Planned Parenthood. Sign their petition, and if you're in the New York City area, join thousands of other pro-choice activists and organizations in rallying for women's health this Saturday, February 26, in Foley Square, NYC.
Keep up the pressure -- because it's the only thing that stands between us and going back to the back alley.
Follow Janine Balekdjian on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Galadriel391