2011-07-22 / Columnists

The New Frontiers

The War On Women Ratchets Up
Commentary By Daniel Solomon

With marriage equality about to become a reality in New York State within days, progressives are celebrating a crucial civil rights victory.

A significant marker has been laid down in the culture war, secured after years of blistering court fights, hardwon legislative battles, and disheartening set-backs. Amid the jubilation of July’s first gay and lesbian weddings, however, liberals would do well not to rest on their laurels. A new and ominous threat to individual freedom is emerging – a well coordinated assault on women’s rights by Republicans in Washington and in every corner of the Union.

Reproductive freedom became a political football in April’s federal budget negotiations as conservatives sought to defund Planned Parenthood, a women’s health organization whose clinics provide, in addition to pap smears, breast cancer screenings, and contraceptives, abortions. The Republicans’ cynical move failed at the national level, but the measure was soon taken up by sympathetic governors in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Texas.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t stopped there. States have passed legislation restricting access to abortion and severely limiting the time during which a pregnancy can be terminated. South Dakota recently mandated that women wait 72 hours after a clinic visit to undergo the procedure. A law in Kansas could force all three medical centers that perform abortion in that state to shut down by imposing expensive and unnecessary regulations on them. Kansas, along with Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Alabama, and Idaho, has also banned abortion beyond 20 weeks – four weeks before viability – based on the junk science that fetuses can feel pain by that time. None of these bills contain exemptions for extenuating circumstances such as rape, incest, defect detected in the fetus, and the health of the mother.

The war on women is multi-faceted and all-encompassing, but its central aim is simple: render Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion, a dead letter. The motivation? Zealotry, in its purest and most unvarnished form. Indeed, the anti-choice movement is spearheaded by the same people who want to knock down the wall between church and state, project private morality onto public policy, and remake America in the image of Antonin Scalia rather than that of the Founders. Their quixotic attempt to create a theocracy will never come to fruition, but their efforts have produced very tangible threats to women’s health and real damage to already-strained government budgets.

Abortion restrictions themselves have exacted a high toll in human suffering. Take, for instance, the 20-week ban mentioned earlier. In Nebraska, Danielle Deaver, with her husband Rob, wanted to end her pregnancy at 22 weeks after her water broke early, it was clear that the baby could not survive outside the womb, and that labor could cause her to contract a serious illness. However, because her state’s prohibition on abortion had no commonsense loopholes, she was forced to wait two weeks until she delivered a dead child, an experience that left her hospitalized with a bacterial infection and scarred for life. Beyond this heartbreaking story, there are millions that will go untold. Those are the tales of women who won’t be able to receive routine cancer testing or find affordable birth control when the Planned Parenthood clinics they depend on close down.

This brings us to the fiscal devastation that will be wrought by the war on women. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that for every dollar the government spends on contraception and screenings, it saves three dollars in return. Taken together, Planned Parenthood uses 86 percent of its budget doing those two things and a measly 3 percent on abortion. States that cut off this funding lose big, very big, letting money that could be used to stimulate job creation or build infrastructure walk out the door.

Of course, none of this matters to the zealots. They abandoned their pretensions to critical thinking and rationality long ago. They are unfazed by facts or statistics, cancer scares or abortion ban nightmares. We can’t reason with them; they’re fanatics. We can’t have a logical discussion with them; they don’t care about logic. And so, we progressives must fight and defeat them – state by state, city by city.

Turning back the anti-choice tide will require us to adopt new strategies and adapt old ones. We will have to vociferously litigate laws that restrict reproductive rights and pursue them all the way through the halls of justice up to the Supreme Court.

We will have to do battle with onerous new restrictions by ginning up grassroots campaigns in states where representatives would do wrong by women. We will have to engage in civil disobedience, refusing to abide by wicked measures that infringe on personal liberty. Most of all, liberals must be willing to stand up for what we believe in and stare down those who would steal away the right to privacy from 50 percent of Americans.

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