We’re Winning One War on Women, But Losing Another

In the last ten days or so we have seen Republicans and their religious allies wage a war against contraception–and bungle it badly. With poll after poll showing that a majority of Americans support contraceptive coverage in health reform, and with the 98 percent statistic (the proportion of sexually experienced American Catholic women who have ever used contraception) endlessly repeated in the media, the Republicans nonetheless push ahead with this attack, providing a welcome gift to the Obama reelection campaign and much material to political artists and comics.

I have lost count of the number of parodies that have been inspired by that now-gone-viral picture of five male clerics testifying at the Congressional hearing called by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA). That picture of course immediately brings to mind another image of a similar tone-deaf moment on the part of social conservatives,  the nine men surrounding President George W. Bush as he became the first president to sign a ban on a particular technique of performing abortion, in the case of so-called “partial birth abortion.”  It’s no wonder that the term “patriarchy” has made a comeback in the blogs!

The well-publicized refusal of Issa to permit the testimony of a female witness put forward by the Democrats, Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student planning to speak to the health consequences of denied contraception at Catholic universities, only added to the disastrous PR of that event.

But while the media is momentarily fixated on the second big story this month of a losing fight against family planning (remember the Susan G. Komen Fund fiasco?), less attention has been paid to a related war that is not going well at all. The assault on abortion that has resulted from the 2010 elections–the Republican takeover of Congress and many statehouses and governorships–has arguably produced the most serious threat to abortion access since the Roe decision in 1973. What we mainly have heard about this situation are the statistics, the unprecedented number of abortion restrictions introduced and eventually passed in state legislatures at a time when one might assume politicians’ focus would be on the economy.

But there are real people behind the numbers and details of the restrictions. And the enormous toll that the abortion wars take on individual women seeking the procedure and the providers who try to help them are insufficiently appreciated by the general public. Consider the case of Jennie McCormick, a destitute Idaho woman, a single mother of three, who, facing an unwanted pregnancy and unable to travel several hours to the nearest abortion clinic, ordered abortion medication over the Internet, and is now facing criminal charges.  She has also been stigmatized in her own community to a degree to which the fictional Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter fame could relate. Here is a description of her daily life from a British newspaper:

When Jennie Linn McCormack walks the streets of Pocatello, the town in southern Idaho where she was born, raised, and still lives, she attempts to disguise her face by covering it with a thick woollen scarf. It doesn’t really work. In the supermarket, people stop and point. At fast-food outlets, they hiss “it’s her!” In the local church, that supposed bastion of forgiveness, fire-and-brimstone preachers devote entire sermons to accusing her of mortal sin …”I feel like my life is over,” Ms McCormack says. “I now stay home all the time. I have no friends. I can’t work. I don’t want to take my kids out in public. People can be really mean about what has happened.”…

Consider as well the case of Amy Hagstrom Miller, who directs a number of abortion clinics in Texas under the name Whole Woman’s Health. Being an abortion provider in red-state Texas is always challenging, but especially in the past year. Hagstrom Miller has had to contend with implementing the state’s new sonogram law, which requires that women come to an abortion clinic at least 24 hours before their scheduled abortion and receive a sonogram from the same physician who will perform their abortion. Additionally, the physician must give the patient a detailed description of her fetus’ development. The state has made it very clear to abortion facilities that it will enforce the law through inspections and will revoke the licenses of those doctors not in compliance.

It is not the fact of sonograms per se that is causing headaches for Hagstrom Miller. Rather it is the way the law is written. Patients at her facilities routinely receive sonograms. But the ultrasound used to be performed by a trained technician, the ultrasound was done abdominally and not through the more intrusive vaginal probe, and patients not have to make two separate visits.

So now Hagstrom Miller has to contend with the frustrations of many of her patients, who typically have to take additional time off work and pay for extra childcare. She also has to deal with the scheduling nightmare of making sure the same physician who performs the ultrasound is available to perform that patient’s abortion. Hagstrom Miller is convinced that this new rule achieves nothing more than putting more obstacles in the way of both provider and patient, and has not achieved its stated objective of changing women’s minds. She says, “It’s had no effect whatsoever on our abortion census.”

But coping with the sonogram law is not the only thing that preoccupies Hagstrom Miller. For the past year, her clinics have been subject to an unrelenting campaign of harassment by the notorious anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.

Unlike Jennie McCormick, the young Idaho women mentioned above, Hagstrom Miller is not isolated and without resources. Indeed, she is a cherished member of the close-knit national community of abortion providers and operates daily in a world of loving family and friends. But both situations reveal one of the greatest challenges facing the reproductive freedom movement. It must figure out how to connect for the public the two reproductive wars currently being waged: the contraceptive one that that thus far seems a slam dunk victory and the abortion one that we are losing (and about which the public is no doubt weary).

In the real world, the issues of contraception and abortion exist on the same continuum. The use of both are affirmations of the belief in non-procreative sex. At Whole Women’s Health, and at most other abortion providing facilities, patients are provided with birth control information and services. It is reasonable to assume that Ms. McCormick, only marginally employed, did not have access to reliable contraception. This connectedness of birth control and abortion is of course a major reason that social conservatives oppose the former. And it is a key reason why the 98 percent-ers should more vigorously support the latter.

Excerpted from RHRealityCheck. Read the full story here.

Photo from Flickr user thecrazyfilmgirl under Creative Commons 2.0.


    In this Holy War on Religion, of Religion, and by Religion – I SURRENDER!
    ‘Cause I’m a lover, not a fighter.
    Instead…I’m gonna start my OWN religion, and get in on the good stuff: tax exemptions, and lots of taxpayer money to do what I want, all in the name of religious liberty. AWESOME!
    Hey NEWT -wanna join? We’re gonna have open marriages and multiple wives and all SORTS of neat stuff that you’re just gonna love! But don’t you worry Newt: we’ll have no – I repeat – NO nasty stoning of adulterers in OUR religion. None of that stuff. I Promise! As for SANTORUM, he just LOVES to tell other people how they should live. He’ll make us a REAL fine preacher-man. In fact, if he joins we’ll make him Saint Santorum….AND fix his Google search results! As for Mr. Obama, it’s obvious that we’ll need to (severely) demonize him, even further than now!  Last but not least: MITT and RON. Hmmm… Hey, I know. Just for you two guys and the rest of the 1%: we’ll insist on NO TAXES AT ALL for our members…AND human sacrifice of illegal aliens. Tear out their hearts! Televise it live! WHAT A COUNTRY!  🙂
    By the way,
    the fact that Mitt Romney’s DAD was born in Mexico is quite relevant here. The reason is that Mitt’s Mormon GRAND-dad LEFT the United States and went to Mexico in the 1880‘s because  laws against polygamy were passed in the U.S.; And being a Mormon back then, Mitt’s grand-dad just wanted to keep his multiple wives. Hey, who wouldn’t? Therefore, IF we follow the “logic” of the people crying crocodile tears about a non-existent “war on religion”, THEN the U.S. should have allowed polygamy back then (and religious racial discrimination, and who knows what else) – just because a particular religion claimed it as their cherished belief. GIVE ME A BREAK! Or better yet… give me a TAX-break…for my new religion!
    Seriously: The bottom line is that absolutely NO ONE is coming into our Churches or places of worship and telling believers what to believe…..or forcing them to use contraception. BUT If the Bishops (and other denominations) want to continue running businesses outside of their places of worship…businesses that employ millions of people of varying faiths -or no “faith” at all- THEN they must play by the same rules and rights that other workers live by and enjoy (especially if their businesses use our tax dollars, and skip paying taxes, in the process). If the Jehovah’s Witnesses church hires me, can they alter my health insurance to exclude blood transfusions? Even worse- what if they operated a hospital by their “rules”?
    This is not a “war on religion”. Never was. However, it IS a war BY some religions… on women and men who simply want to plan their families, to control their futures, to keep their jobs, and to have health insurance that allows them to do that. The churches (or the IRS) need to decide whether these churches are  going to be political organizations proclaiming partisan politics from the pulpit…or….tax-exempt places of WORSHIP.  Not both.
    p. s. I come from a religious background. I know that their are many good people out there in various faiths (AND outside of those faiths)…many good people searching for answers, searching for community, searching for a way….in this all-too-harsh world. There’s only one thing I can say to you: think for yourself, be yourself, trust yourself. Don’t just accept something because it comes from a “voice of authority”. For ultimately YOU are responsible for your life, and how you try to live it. That’s why you have a conscience: to choose, not just to follow….

  2. Frustrated says:

    The ultrasound-before-abortion requirement — it is horrible for a few reasons including as an instrumental obstacle for women seeking an abortion [created by those who would gladly decide for all women] and given that the ultrasound is trans-vaginal (a little rapey when none is needed and trans-abdominal would be an option.) The other angle that kills me is with our sky rocketing healthcare costs and excess medical procedures, bills pass that jack up BS testing for non-medical reasons. This is careless legislation on all fronts.

    Where can I get a “We [heart] our family planning providers” T-shirts?

  3. Ann von Mehren says:

    The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonograms (ARDMS) is not making a ‘sound’ (excuse the pun) on this issue, which will lead to more jobs for ultrasound techs and more ordering of ultrasound machines. The same companies that make ultrasound machines make abortion machines, in places like China and Denmark, where abortion is not only legal but state-sponsored.

    Here’s a couple of ideas for the good people of Pocatello, Idaho, if they feel the need to sermonize. The abortion pill Ms. McCormack ordered was created by a pharmaceutical company in Europe. There’s several brands — boycott all imports of medications from companies that make abortion pills.

    Idaho exported $50 million in forest products to China from 2008 to 2011. Put the pressure on China about taxing additional children if a family doesn’t abort after one child — stop timber exports to China.

  4. Not so democratic says:

    I follow the postings on this site quite regularly. Living in South Africa a now supposedly democratic and free nation…I’m surprised at the injustices,the law breaking and corruption that happens on our Africa that happens with no consequence or reprimand. Take for example what some might deem a small insignificant matter where a member of parliament can blatantly disregard the same justice system that his grandfather, a former president, enforced during his reign. Yes we have a system which acknowledges customary law that respects that we are so diverse in culture that we have 11 official languages…but somehow justice has fallen short of ackwoldeging that laws of that culture and the civil society we live in…yes as South Africa we have failed to respect the laws that we have fought for, for a truly democratic South Africa…I emphasise TRULY. Because it is when we are truly truly democratic nation that we FIGHT for the honest plights of our women,the care givers and nurturers of our country that justcice can be equibly met. So I ask, in the plight of one woman faced with fighting the injustice of a man whose strength lies only in the fact fact that his last name is Mandela, faced with the plight that the same system both cultural and civil is fighting instead of aiding her…what is her resolution? What is the justice for her? We as women fight many battles, some which we won’t resolve in this generation…in whatever state we reside in. I ask…do we not fight the small battles first, do we not support our sisters, mothers, care givers, nurturers…in the smallest battles first, the ones we can win tommorow? Do we not fight and win? Do we not fight and win as a collective?

  5. The descriptive adjective “patriarchy” has NEVER disappeared from the vocabulary of informed people. It may be more prevalent in today’s writings but those of us who have lived more than 7 decades can assure you younger women writers that we have a full understanding of what the word means.

    My dear young women, that includes for us older women the committing of uncooperative wives to the state hospitals (straight jackets, etc.) when they did not do as they were told by the patriarchy. Remember the phrase recently used by one of those political patriarchs: “She’s out of control!” And another one, “She is being difficult.”

    Those two phrases mean she is a BI*CH and needs to be put out of misery!

    • Actually, patriarchy is a noun. 🙂

      Most feminists have never gotten rid of the word, patriarchy, because it still describes our society pretty darned well.

      Allan G. Johnson, a sociologist and novelist, has written an excellent
      “patriarchy 101” book called The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy.
      When I became an activist, I knew we needed a good book that would explain what patriarchy is, what it isn’t, and how all of can work together for something better. It didn’t hurt that the book was written by a white, male heterosexual.

  6. The last 40 years has produced an odious return to near medieval religious orthodoxies by male hierarchies worldwide. As religious conflicts of intolerance broke out, the hierarchies retreated to their orthodox corners to summon support. The only way support for these hare-brained wars could be supplied was by sublimating half the population to ignorance, poverty and a campaign of forced breeding to supplement the armies of their gods.

    It’s curious to me that I rarely see female clerics of any faiths waging war. This is a pugilistic campaign against women waged by men in silly headgear who claim to be the voice of an invisible male deity. As long as women tolerate political regimes governed by theocratic ideals, we will be in danger.

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