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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 9/24/13

The support of anti-choice candidates by brand-name corporations fuels the national war on women

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Equal pay. Even proposals requiring that female employees doing the same level of work as men be paid the same come under attack. This is a widely accepted principle of fundamental fairness, yet all but eight House Republicans voted against 2009's "Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act," and GOP senators killed the 2012 Paycheck Fairness Act with a filibuster. Meanwhile, working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), extremist GOP governors and legislators in such states as Wisconsin and Minnesota have been attacking equal pay rights in their jurisdictions. Indeed, just days before Wendy Davis' filibuster, Gov. "Oops" Perry fell in step with this vindictive national push by vetoing an equal pay law that his GOP colleagues had voted for, thus infuriating even Republican women and stoking the conflagration that followed.

Rape. For pure misogyny, though, it's hard to beat the US Senate. Responding to the rampant rise of sexual assault in the military (a Pentagon report  indicates 26,000 instances of unwanted sexual contact last year alone), Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia offered the boys-will-be-boys defense, saying the cause was nothing more than "the hormone level created by nature." Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama endorsed Saxby's scientific insight, but goosed it up with the favorite bugaboo of far-right preachers: Pornography. Yes, pictures of evil nekkid women are to blame for the surge in rapes, he suggested in June!

Sick Leave. In addition, many legislative attacks on worker rights are, in essence, attacks on women. More than half of working moms do not get paid sick leave benefits -- worse, eight out of 10 low-wage workers (about two-thirds of whom are women) must go to work sick or lose pay... and possibly their jobs. Many cities across the country are responding to this inequity with ordinances requiring companies to let workers earn sick leave days, as they should've been doing all along -- both as a matter of common decency and public health.

So in the past couple of years, ALEC has rushed to the rescue -- not of ill workers, but of ethically sick corporate employers. Using a despicable bill that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker shoved into law, ALEC is pushing legislators to impose "state preemption" on local governments, banning them from passing paid sick-leave requirements.

McDonald's, Red Lobster, Taco Bell, and such other low-wage exploiters as Disney World, have lobbied heavily to get ALEC's preemption model introduced in at least a dozen states this year -- and Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Kansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee have already enacted it.

Still, though, the most aggressive and virulent right-wing attacks on women today involve the fusillade being fired to (1) maim reproductive rights, (2) kill Planned Parenthood, and (3) close off the poor and near-poor from access to women's health services. Again and again, we're seeing small, pious, tightly organized, male-dominated groups in our society insisting that they are the chosen ones, the autocrats ordained to rule over all women on the deeply personal, intrinsically private matter of choosing (for many different and difficult reasons) whether or not to seek an abortion.

Ironically, these authoritarians are mostly self-proclaimed small-government conservatives, yet they demand that the government be given practically unlimited power to control the minds and intrude most intimately into the bodies of women. This includes forced abdominal ultrasounds; transvaginal probes; interference with doctors' medical judgments; required reading of state-written, anti-abortion scripts to abortion seekers; mandatory viewing of graphic, quasi-religious, government-made propaganda videos; arbitrary waiting periods; contrived barriers to deny access to doctors and facilities; and eliminating any abortion option for women made pregnant by rape or incest.

No matter how invasive one state law becomes, there's a push elsewhere to up the ante. The new Texas law says a woman has no choice after 20 weeks of pregnancy (including if she was raped). But as reports, Arkansas passed a law criminalizing abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected (around 12 weeks). A new North Dakota law bars abortion after six weeks (before most women even realize they're pregnant). An Alabama proposal would lower the bar to the moment an egg is successfully fertilized (thus extending the full legal rights of "personhood" to a spermatozoa, making contraception illegal). And, lest you think it's impossible to be any more restrictive, an Arizona law declares that pregnancy dates back to the first day after a woman's last menstrual period prior to getting pregnant (meaning a "baby" would legally exist two weeks before conception -- miraculous, indeed).

While the "war" metaphor is badly overused in our culture (having been stretched across everything from crime to Christmas), it is apt here. As a Texas right-wing Rep. proudly proclaimed this spring: "Of course it's a war -- on birth control, abortion, everything."

By "everything," he means our evolved American culture, which has progressed from "Father Knows Best" to The Pill, then to Roe v. Wade, on to the emergence of women as bosses and powerful congressional leaders, and now to the likelihood that females will soon rise all the way to the American presidency. In the quick span of a half century, women have organized and mobilized to achieve a more democratic social order that includes sexual freedom, rising economic independence, greater visibility in public life, and a heightened control of their own destiny.

The struggle is not, as the right wing piously claims, about some precise time limit for abortions or "protecting" the health of pregnant women, but about reasserting power over uppity females. If a woman can be barred from controlling her own uterus, then everything else she thinks she controls is in doubt.

The corporate connection

In July, a Wisconsin journalist marveled that the state's anti-choice contingent has been winning the legislature's abortion battles, despite spending very little on lobbying and elections. "How is that possible?" he asked the right-wingers. It's God's will, they explained, claiming to be on "the right side" and to enjoy the support of the grassroots. "So we don't need a ton of dollars."

Yet, in a poll last fall, 60 percent of Wisconsinites said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with barely a third supporting the anti faction. So, what gives?

It's not what gives -- but who. Start with the widespread power of the Catholic church, which throws its tax-free wealth and bully pulpits behind the groups fighting against women's reproductive rights. From bishops to parish priests, the church's autocratic hierarchy constantly delivers instructions to the faithful that even condoms are evil, much less abortion. Of course, a multitude of Catholics refuse to go along, but this just seems to make the patriarchy more extremist, absolutist, and vociferous, demanding obedience in the name of the Father. The church's "non-political" preaching, teaching, and unrestricted spending constitutes an overtly political, multimillion-dollar subsidy for the anti-woman lobby.

Then there's a surprising funding source that surreptitiously supports the no-abortion zealots: Corporate America. The involvement of these super-rich entities has drawn practically zero media coverage, and you certainly won't see corporations up front at rallies or proudly listing their brand names as sponsors of anti-choice groups. But who do you think financed and helped organize the hundreds of legislative, gubernatorial, and congressional campaigns of current officeholders who're now pounding women with the harshest, most oppressive, and goofiest laws against reproductive rights and equality?

The Koch brothers' network of corporate billionaires is one stealth backer. Also Karl Rove's long list of corporate blue-chip funders, the dark money conduit of the US Chamber of Commerce, and other storehouses of corporate cash regularly disburse truckloads of Big Business dollars across the country to elect those extremist candidates. Not that top corporate executives actually agree with the war on women. But they also don't care if abortion is outlawed, because they're rich and can quietly arrange any abortions their families choose.

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Jim Hightower is an American populist, spreading his message of democratic hope via national radio commentaries, columns, books, his award-winning monthly newsletter (The Hightower Lowdown) and barnstorming tours all across America.

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