Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's recent statement likening Planned Parenthood to a terrorist organization could be easily dismissed as a rhetorical rant designed to win a court case if it were not part of a disturbing, on-going assault on the rights of women. Between us, we are the fathers of four daughters who are between 3 and 21 and the reality is that the youngest are growing up in a country where women have less rights and personal autonomy than when the oldest was born. In countless areas, conservatives have fought, often with great success, to turn back the clock on many issues concerning gender equality.
It is astounding that in 2012 a major presidential candidate could argue that birth control is immoral and go on to win eleven Republican primaries. At the same time, some of our most prestigious universities and hospitals want to deny insurance coverage for birth control for women, including college students with virtually no income. And the Obama Administration has been roundly criticized for wanting to make contraception more affordable. Limiting access to contraceptives obviously affects women differently and far more profoundly than it does men.
The attack on women's rights is also evident in the proliferation of overly-restrictive and medically unnecessary abortion laws. Eight states have adopted laws requiring mandatory ultrasounds, while other states require women to view pictures of the fetus prior to an abortion. States are also adopting mandatory waiting periods as long as 72 hours after an abortion is requested before it can be provided. These requirements serve no medical purpose and are just about legislatures trying to coerce women not to have abortions. These procedural hurdles are condescending to and disrespectful of women.
Notwithstanding Supreme Court precedents to the contrary, states have also adopted laws prohibiting all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. This particular prohibition is not only unconstitutional, but tragically inhumane. Women who have abortions at that stage of pregnancy almost always do so because of serious medical problems. The result of all of these laws is to make it harder for women, and especially poor women, to exercise their constitutional right to safe and legal abortions.
It is not just over reproductive rights that legislatures are turning back women's rights. Just last month, the state of Wisconsin decided to make it much more difficult for women to enforce equal pay laws. Some legislatures are considering drug testing women who receive child custody payments while others are cutting funds to fight domestic abuse. Last year, the Supreme Court dismissed a class action by 1.5 million women who suffered sex discrimination in pay and promotion as employees at Walmart despite strong evidence of a corporate culture that led to discriminatory treatment. The concerted effort across the country to defund Planned Parenthood directly harms women's health in a myriad of ways (such as cancer screenings) that have nothing to do with abortion.
Why is all this happening, and why now? As the Republican Party has moved to the right, it has come to support a series of policies that are very harmful to women. Conservatives are not just against abortion rights. There is a huge overlap between people who are against choice and people opposed to affordable birth control, sex education in schools, and government subsidized child (and health) care. Conservatives see themselves as fighting over morality and a way of life. Unfortunately, it leads them to support policies which directly harm women and especially low-income women and single mothers.
As fathers, we wish for a country where abortions are rare but available. We want our daughters to be allowed to make their own decisions about family, child-rearing (or not), sexuality, and the difficult balancing of working outside the home with the joys and challenges of motherhood. We want to live in a world where reasonable people agree to disagree on issues beyond human understanding like questions of faith and when life begins.
Perhaps most importantly, we would like predominantly male political decision-makers to exercise more humility before they use the force of law to constrain women's most fundamental personal choices. Many conservatives are fighting against that kind of gender neutral world, and our daughters' health, happiness, and freedom depend on more progressive forces winning the battle.