The XX Factor

Latest Anti-Choice Bill Just Part of a Growing List of Anti-Woman Legislation

Pro-choice activists with the National Organization for Women hold a vigil to mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 23, 2012 in Washington, D.C.

Photograph by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images.

Rachael, I know that it’s important to you to get pro-choicers to believe that anti-choicers care about “the unborn,” but PRENDA is, along with the relentless attacks on contraception access, just further proof that the main objective of the anti-choice movement is to strip women of their shoes and point us back into the kitchen. Sex-selective abortion is an unpleasant thing to contemplate and is actually a public health problem in some parts of the world, of course, but all the international experts who have looked at this issue agree that restricting abortion access is the worst way to go about fixing the problem. In a 2011 joint report from WHO, UNFPA, UNICEF, OHCHR, and U.N. Women, the conclusion was loud and clear: Restricting access to abortion just creates a black market in unsafe abortion. The best way to fix the problem of sex selection is to stop discriminating against women, since the lower status of women is why parents want sons instead of daughters.

Since Republicans and anti-choice activists otherwise are fighting not only not to reduce discrimination against women, but to increase it, I have to conclude their interest in sex-selective abortion has nothing to do with a real concern about the practice, but is instead another attempt to reduce women’s status by taking away our bodily autonomy. I thought it would be hard for congressional Republicans to outdo last year’s attempts to attack women’s rights and women’s health care access, but with PRENDA, they’re really on a path to beat their own record.

The most recent and obnoxious example is the battle over the reauthorization of VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act. The Senate passed a version that should have been as uncontroversial as prior versions of VAWA, one that extended protections to trafficked women and abused immigrants married to American men, as well LGBT folks. Instead, the Republican-controlled House passed another version that doesn’t have these protections, while making it clear that if the battle over this kills the legislation altogether, they won’t be crying in their pillows. Conservative activists who also fight against abortion rights were very clear about why they oppose VAWA, with Concerned Women for America stating that they oppose legislation that recommends “the demise of the family as a means to eliminate violence.” Which is a nice way of saying they think that the law should be geared toward keeping women married to men who beat them. Incidentallly, fear of domestic violence is often one reason women seek sex-selective abortion, causing one to wonder if CWA would make an exception for women who get those abortions for the honorable reason of trying to reconcile with abusive husbands. Or perhaps the ideal solution is to refuse to get the abortion and just be subject to more beatings instead, consoling yourself that you’ll be rewarded for your submissive womanhood in the afterlife.

Of course, the most headline-grabbing attack on women’s rights this year was the thankfully defeated Blunt amendment, which would have allowed any employer to make some noises about Jesus and thereby cut off his employees’ access to insurance coverage for contraception. This is overt sex discrimination, of course, because while men would be able to use 100 percent of their earned insurance benefits, women would be blocked from using theirs. It would amount to docking a female employee’s pay for about $50-$100 a month, forcing her to pay out of pocket for her preventive care when men have theirs covered completely. It’s a minor bit of discrimination, but that sort of thing adds up to women being second-class citizens, which is exactly what international experts say is the cause of sex-selective abortion. If conservatives want to send the message that sons aren’t more valuable than daughters, they should start by not trying to pass legislation that makes it legal for employers to offer reduced insurance benefits to women, i.e. literally valuing women less. Luckily, the Blunt amendment was defeated.

Any notion that PRENDA is rooted in a sincere concern for women and girls, and not just another attempt to find a way to force as many unwilling women as possible to give birth, should be put to bed by examining other anti-choice legislation Republicans have drafted this year. Indeed, one bill that’s made it out of committee is particularly ugly in its targeting of vulnerable, abused teenage girls for forced childbirth. It’s called the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, or CIANA, and its purpose is to criminalize grandmothers, siblings, and other trusted adults who help teenage girls who live in parental notification states to get abortions in more liberal states. Many times, the grandparent or sibling is functionally the only adult in the girl’s life and the parent can’t be notified because they’re nowhere to be found. In other cases, the parent is abusive, and the relative or friend is trying to avoid a confrontation. In some cases, the parent who they’re avoiding impregnated the girl. CIANA doesn’t recognize any of these problems, and has a blanket ban, requiring that grandmothers and big sister abandon even girls that have been raped by their fathers, or face jail time for helping them.

The unnerving obsession with hunting for any woman possible for forced childbirth is most evident, in my opinion, with Rep. Thomas Franks bill to ban abortions in Washington D.C. after 20 weeks. The attempt just reeks of looking around and trying to figure out how many women Congress can find jurisdiction over, and nailing them to the ground. As with Rep. Roy Blunt convening an all-male panel to discuss docking women’s earned insurance benefits for contraception use, Franks has given off a distinct “women are for breeding, not opinionating” vibe during the proceedings around this bill. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton requested a chance to at least testify on behalf of her constiuents in front of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, and was shot down by Franks, who clearly had hit his lady-voice limit by having to endure testimony from a woman who had a late term abortion. Bans on later term abortions tend to be the most disheartening for anyone who hopes there’s a shred of empathy in the anti-choice heart for women. Most women who abort that late in pregnancy are suffering from medical conditions, or encountered a number of obstacles that prevented them from getting earlier abortions. As with restrictions that target teenage girls, you start to feel that the more vulnerable and suffering a woman is, the more eager Republicans are to force her to give birth against her will.

The silver lining in all this is most of these bills, including PRENDA, are mostly symbolic in value. Outside of VAWA, most of these bills have no chance of getting past the House. All this really serves is to highlight the differences between Democrats and Republicans on the issue of women’s rights, and to draw attention to how that gulf is growing. After all, as the war on woman has intensified from the right,  Democrats have become more aggressive advocates for women, passing equal pay legislation and mandatory contraception coverage, eliminating insurance discrimination against women, and now seeking to repeal a ban on funding for abortion for servicewomen who have been raped. Republicans grand-standing about the sudden and deep concern they have for females in the womb simply makes it more obvious how much loathing they have for the ladies after they develop a functioning nervous system.