Second-wave feminists are fond of repeating the Chinese slogan, "Women hold up half the sky." If that's true, Chicken Little must be flapping around the coop proclaiming "The sky is falling!" She's right: The War on Women, as dubbed by progressive organizations and the liberal media, is nothing short of an all-out assault on women and their children in the name of economic recovery.
If the Republicans win out, millions of women will no longer be able to access affordable contraception, STD testing, pre-natal care, life-saving cancer screenings, or legal abortion. Nutritional support for their newborn infants and young children will be dramatically cut. And that's just for starters.
In the first half of this year, 162 new provisions related to reproductive health and rights were enacted by nineteen states. Almost 50 percent of them seek to restrict abortion services. Among the strategies introduced to restrict women from making personal, private decisions about childbearing are requirements for counseling, prolonged waiting periods, and gestational bans. For example, South Dakota -- that enlightened state where right-wing legislators proposed a bill justifying homicide in the event of "imminent threat" to a fetus -- passed a law (currently pending legal challenges) which would expand the pre-abortion waiting period to 72 hours and require a woman to visit a crisis pregnancy center for abortion counseling -- "counseling" that offers information not supported by mainstream medical opinion or sound methodology. Fifteen other states have introduced measures based on a Nebraska law banning abortions at 20 weeks gestation (the U.S. Constitution allows abortions up to 24 weeks).
New Hampshire is one of the states gunning for women. Since the state's Executive Council voted to cancel its contract with Planned Parenthood, a woman now has to pay from $40 to over $100 for birth control pills at a pharmacy; prior to this, she could get them for $5 or less at a Planned Parenthood clinic. The council rejected up to $1.8 million in state funding for the critically important women's health care provider and stripped it of its authority to dispense low-cost birth control and antibiotics to uninsured patients.
Some of the proposed legislation is downright goofy. In Ohio opponents of reproductive choice want to have a fetus "testify" on behalf of a "heartbeat bill." In Georgia, a state representative wants to criminalize not just abortions, but miscarriages, potentially punishable by death. This same legislator also proposed legislation last year that would redefine rape victims as "accusers;" apparently he thought that would be helpful in generating sympathy for rapists.
But reproductive health isn't the only thing at risk. The National Women's Law Center has proffered a long list of threats to women and their families who should not be made to bear the brunt of deficit reduction. They point out that low-income and elderly women are especially vulnerable. In addition to Medicaid, Medicare, WIC, and other well-known federal programs, initiatives that support such beneficial services as early education and child support enforcement will be cut along with food stamps, unemployment benefits, and social security. These are all vital to women heads of household, disabled women, and women over the age of sixty-five.
Michelle Singletary, writing in The Washington Post, says "The everything in "Everything on the Table' has a name. She is likely to be a woman, a senior citizen or a mother struggling to get by. Putting everything on the table"will disproportionately hurt women already struggling to make ends meet."
Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security for the National Women's Law Center, adds, "The kinds of cuts under discussion now are truly terrifying, particularly when you look at the effects that the austerity program already begun has had particularly on women." Imagine, she says, an actual table at which an elderly woman entirely dependent on Social Security, a woman who hasn't had a wage increase in years, and a single mother are seated with a hedge fund manager, a CEO and an oil company executive. "And then we say to them, "ante up'".
"This is not reform," says House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. "It's the same old ideological turn back the clock for women."
Unlike the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we can't draw down our troops in the War on Women; we aren't even close to winning and we can't pretend to be. And unlike the Arab Spring, we still don't know when our season of liberation will come. The only thing we do know is that we will never, ever allow the clock to be turned back.