Pop Rocket, April 2012
At lunch the other day, a dear old friend and steadfast Republican scoffed when the conversation turned briefly to the "Republican war on women," asserting as Governor Brewer did the other week that the whole thing was invented by Democrats as a wedge issue.
This startlingly preposterous idea points up just how insulated even very intelligent and well-meaning people can be from inconvenient facts.
Somehow this group is imagining that Democrats tricked or forced Republicans into escalating legislative attempts at both the state and federal levels to further limit access to contraception, women's health care and abortion. Even the famously conservative Arizona Capitol Times, in a news piece by Luigi del Puerto, writes, "Arizona in fact has widened its trenches in the war front of the never-ceasing struggle to define morality, sexuality and religious life in 21st Century America."
My friend is right in that it's not strictly a war on women. After all, there are some women helping push this agenda. It's really just another skirmish in the war on the entire 20th Century. But the core objective of the anti-contraception campaign remains, as it has always been, the control of women according to long-expired notions of their proper role in society. And women everywhere are getting hip to it.
Many are already aware that most religiously affiliated hospitals and nonprofits never had a problem with providing contraception coverage in employee insurance packages until the President mentioned that the Affordable Care Act will make this accepted practice mandatory. Less widely known are the advancing criminalization of abortions after 20 weeks and attacks on the funding of Planned Parenthood, which will effectively eliminate affordable access by rural women to a broad range of health-care services as well as contraception and abortion. What the Times reports as "their most ambitious agenda yet in their fight to restrict abortion and birth control” will probably pass our veto-proof Arizona Legislature this year.
That insulation of thought I mentioned earlier is keeping an awful lot of Republicans from getting just how much trouble this could cause them at the ballot box, winning the battle but losing the war. Even crusty old Senator John McCain, whose political career finally tanked thanks in large part to an out-of-control woman, raised a warning flag on Meet the Press: "There is a perception out there (that there is a 'war on women') because of the way this whole contraception issue has played out. We need to get off of that issue, in my view. ... I think we ought to respect the right of women to make choices in their lives and make that clear -- and get back onto what the American people really care about: jobs and the economy."
Saying that legal efforts to limit women's choices is a struggle to protect religious rights strikes me as characterizing Jim Crow laws as protecting the economic rights of white landowners. ("Sure, you can be free, as long as you continue to live like a slave.")
We can be fairly confident that most of the bills our Tea Party-dominated Legislature is passing in this area won't survive court challenge, but that's not really the point. The sponsors truly believe that they have a mandate from the last election and a winning issue for the next, and they plan to run on it.
But it's already a loser for Republicans. You can't openly insult the rights and intelligence of 51% of voters and avoid a backlash, even within what you thought was your base.
The reactionaries have to be hoping that they can lock in their legislative wins during primary season, before the national party orders a tack back toward center, and counting on the famously short memories of American voters. Once again this devalues women and what everyone cares about most -- freedom and equality under the law.