Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Battle of the Uterus

The hits just keep on coming. I am gobsmacked at how quickly and virulently the war over women’s health has blown up over the last two months. Although the issue of abortion, contraception, and other medical care was always present to a lesser extent, it didn’t erupt into a major political issue until the Obama administration attempted to mandate that all employers include birth control in their health care plans.

The Catholic Church, forgetting that it is no longer a respected paragon of moral leadership, led the counterattack by screaming that the requirement was an attack on religious liberty, and incidentally making common cause with the very evangelicals churches who until recently blasted Rome as the whore of Babylon. They also lied, and I’m pretty sure lying is still a sin. The Catholic Church crossed the River Jordan into the political world years ago. Any church that wants to play politics on the national level has given up any pretense of being the neutral, benevolent and charitable influence on society that deserved a tax exemption, and should pay taxes just like any other corporation.

The disgraced senator and now presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a paleo-Catholic who was humiliated in a 2008 reelection contest after being caught waist-deep in lobbying and corruption scandals, fanned the flames in order to score political points against his opponents in the Republican primary contests.

The backlash against the Susan G. Komen foundation’s defunding of Planned Parenthood—an ill-considered move instigated by a fanatical Republican on the Komen board—didn’t help things either, since the fuss only highlighted how much Planned Parenthood does in addition to providing abortions, such as pregnancy care, cancer screenings, and the like. Two-thirds of Americans support Planned Parenthood.

In recent months, the legislatures of the state and federal governments have also been the scene of laws that might have been taken from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale (except, as many have recently noted, the book was intended as a cautionary tale rather than an instruction manual).

For example, an Arizona law now encourages doctors to lie to their patients in the expectation that the doctors would try to talk the patient out of an abortion.

Congress is considering legislation that would ban the use of federal funds to aid women needing emergency medical care if that medical care could include an abortion or the death of the fetus. Let’s just call it the Let Women Die On The Floor Act of 2012.

Texas just sacrificed an entire women’s health care program, funded by $34 million from the federal government’s Medicaid program, after the legislature and Governor Perry decided to ignore fifty-year-old laws against discriminating against health care providers and to ban Planned Parenthood from receiving state funding. It probably won’t reduce the number of abortions in Texas, but it will keep over several hundred thousand women from receiving services like breast cancer screenings, and ultimately result in some of them dying of cancer. I hope it was worth it, Rick, but you’re not running for president anymore, and don’t have to keep burnishing those Christian Coalition credentials quite so bright.

Georgia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and several other states have enacted or are considering laws that would give a fetus more rights than the woman in whose womb it lies, and obliging the government to defend every fetus at the expense of the mother. To miscarry for any reason would become a crime in some states. Women pregnant as a result of rape would have to bear the rapist’s child—nine months of legally-mandated hell. A stillborn baby would have to be carried to term—nine months, and delivered ‘naturally,’ even if it had died in the first trimester and disintegrated into a rotting mass of slime. How exactly is that a natural delivery? Women in Arizona could soon be fired at-will for using contraception, if that offends the company management’s moral position. Unfertilized eggs may receive ‘personhood’ status in some states, thus making any contraception that could prevent their fertilization an abortion. The “Plan B” emergency contraception pill, which can prevent conception but not terminate conceived zygote, is under siege.

This legislation comes overwhelmingly from the hard right wing of the Republican party, and would do nothing more or less than strip women of their human rights.

The insanity of these Handmaid’s Tale laws is borne out by several laws proposed as parodies. For example, a law proposed in Georgia by Representative Yasmin Neal, a Democrat, called for a ban on vasectomies. A similar law, proposed in Oklahoma, would have banned the deposition of semen anywhere but a woman’s vagina, thereby criminalizing several major male pastimes.

And yet, the Republican chair of a Congressional hearing on women’s health would not allow a Georgetown law student named Sandra Fluke to speak, preferring instead to listen only to men. Ms. Fluke was subsequently vilified as a slut by an obese abuser of prescription painkillers and impotence medication who just happened to have a widely-broadcast radio program. To the credit of the business community, many of the program’s advertising sponsors promptly terminated their advertising contracts with the show.

I wouldn’t be surprised if people in other countries look at the US and see some sort of Strangelove scenario, with our government overrun with General Rippers afoam at the mouth about a vast conspiracy seeking to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.

This just shows you how schizophrenic and intellectually bankrupt conservatism is these days. The religiously-motivated social conservatives and the small-government fiscal conservatives are tripping over each other like the Three Stooges, panicked by a primary contest that has deteriorated into bad reality TV, an economy that seems to be on the road to recovery despite their best efforts, and a Democratic (And black! How dare he!) president who seems invincible.

The result is that we have presidential candidates, senators, governors, and state legislators thumping copies of Atlas Shrugged or Adam Smith and demanding that the government stay out of the finances of people (and ‘people’ includes multibillion-dollar corporations now) because more than token taxation of the wealthy is unconscionable, socialist, and totalitarian.

Many of the exact same people, maybe only sentences later, can be found thumping the a copy of the Bible and demanding legislation that drastically prunes away women’s civil rights and reproductive rights be passed under the sort of hell-for-leather deadlines that usually involve other countries bombing our naval bases.

So it’s blackest tyranny for the government to tax citizens to pay for services that the citizens enjoy, but sound, essential, and godly policy for government to regulate the microscopic workings of women’s internal organs, never mind the bedroom? What sort of small and limited government is that? Even Ron Paul, who looms largest of the Republican presidential candidates when it comes to small government, has tied himself in a knot on the issue.

Why is the uterus fair game when capital gains tax is off limits?

William F. Buckley would weep.

I don’t expect any of these laws to stand for very long, even if they become law. The legal arguments and precedents supporting them are tenuous in the extreme, and they attempt essentially to write discrimination and inequality into state or federal law. The affront to the civil rights of half of this country’s population will not withstand even the lightest judicial review. Most of the legislators who vote for these laws, cynically, likely expect them to be overturned in short order, but they can use the fuss thus created to win the support of those evangelical Christians who expect the government to throw out the Constitution in favor of the Bible, a population probably including the 52% of Mississippi Republicans who believe President Obama is a Muslim.

That’s one reason that abortion will never actually be made illegal. It’s one of the ultimate laws of Republican hypocrisy. If they ever actually followed through with it, and they probably could have during the first George W. Bush administration, they wouldn’t have that flag to rally the troops around during the next election.

We have wars going on, economic turmoil, the head of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac refuses to take his boot off the neck of the housing mortgage market because it would make it harder for him to balance the books, and a Senate Minority Leader whose sole goal for the last four years has been to keep President Obama from being reelected.

We have more important concerns.

This artificial battle over women’s health is a stupid waste of time.

Women’s health care does not need to be open to this sort of debate and bogus legislation. It should be as simple and easy to obtain as it is for men. No more, no less. The fact that women require different services, some of which involve pregnancy and childbirth, should matter not one bit.

More to the point, the state and federal government should just give up any pretense that it knows more about what is good for a woman than the woman herself. If she wants to have an abortion, it should be safe, legal, and entirely up to her. Any financial, ethical, or spiritual consequences should also be borne by her. It’s her body, it should be her choice. If we respect the freedom of the individual, ok, let’s carry it all the way through, educate her without indoctrinating her, and let her make an educated choice based on her own physical, mental, spiritual, and medical situation.

This will never happen, of course, because as long as there are politicians willing to make an issue of it, abortion will be used as a club to beat the other side. That’s no reason to stretch the issue to include breast cancer screenings which could save you’re mother’s, daughter’s, sister’s, or wife’s life.