Misogyny and the Politicization of Women's Health
I have a confession to make: I'm a pro-choice feminist and registered democrat (small 'D" is intentional). When I was in college, I attended a "lobby day" in Richmond, Virginia in 2004 when the state General Assembly was considering establishing new requirements for abortion clinics that would in effect close the majority of the clinics in the state. Then state senator Ken Cuccinelli, who is now our Attorney General and has voiced interest in defeating Democratic Senator Mark Warner in 2014, had sponsored the bill we came to oppose and on that day the bill was rejected. Similar bills have gone before the state legislature for almost 20 years, but this year it finally passed the senate and the Virginia Board of Health voted 12-1 to implement these overly restrictive measures. The restrictions will mandate that facilities that perform abortions must adhere to the same health and safety guidelines as hospitals, even if they only administer pharmaceutical abortions. I wouldn't be as disheartened and disappointed if these measures were passed with a compelling concern for women's safety and health, but too often these kinds of measures are politically motivated to advance the careers of anti-choice politicians who want to bolster their social conservative credentials to voters, especially those voters who follow a literalist understanding of the Bible.
I know many pro-life folks who aren't misogynistic and don't demonstrate hypocrisy when they say they support a "culture of life". But when politicians such as Virginia governor Bob McDonnell (who's interested in the GOP VP slot for the presidential election in 2012) endorses measures that will restrict abortion access, claim to be "pro-life", but then allow the state execution of a border-line retarded woman, Teresa Lewis, almost a year ago this month it's beyond frustrating for me to wrap my head around this logic. This discrepancy has always enraged me, especially when it's politicians with the power to legislate.There has been ample talk about women's health so far in the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. I've noticed a frightening amount of misogyny has peppered the reasoning behind some of the candidates support against such issues as:
· Public Funding of Contraceptive Medication - I can understand fiscal concerns over whether taxpayers should subsidize birth control, although on a policy level I think it would be a good idea to help bridge the disparity in how much more women pay for health care services over their life time then men (because we're the ones with health issues brought on from the joys of giving birth). But I'm shocked how often conservatives have talked about this issue like it's such a trivial matter. As FOX Commentator Sandy Rios stated, "Are we going to do pedicures and manicures as well?" because the beauty salon is where most women get their Yasmin, right? Plus equating services such as domestic violence counseling to getting your nails done is beyond insensitive and insulting. Sean Hannity should get a special prize for his condescending and wrong-headed claim that birth control is a personal choice and coverage would lead to the continuation of a Nanny State, but erectile dysfunction medication should be covered by health insurance because by comparison "it's a legitimate medical problem versus a choice to have sex" that deserves coverage.
· "Heartbeat" Laws - Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry is defending a bill that he signed into law that would require women who want abortions to view a sonogram and listen to the heartbeat of their fetus while be lectured on the "facts about the life she is carrying". In order to hear the fetal heartbeat, women need a vaginal probe inserted into their vagina, which is unnecessarily intrusive of a woman's privacy. Plus, do Texas legislators think women are stupid enough not to know that an abortion results in the termination of a pregnancy? (Big Hint: it's where the term "abortion" comes from.) There are several other states considering similar laws despite a federal judge rejecting the Texas law as unconstitutional.
· HPV Vaccine Mandate - Tea Party darling Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann decided to take a gotcha swipe at her more popular rival for the GOP nomination, Governor Rick Perry, by highlighting the horrific Big Gubermint infringement on individual liberty through a mandated vaccination order Perry signed on to. Never mind the fact that individual liberty never trumps public safety (this is why you can't own a pit-bull in many jurisdictions but can buy an assault rifle, but that's a post for another day...), and that the reason we don't have polio or smallpox is due to government mandated vaccinations, that all won't impinge an ambitious politician from exploiting women's health to their advantage. Another compelling reason to have the government take a stance on vaccination is that it forces health insurance companies to cover the cost of vaccinations if it's out of "medical necessity", either your doctor or the state recommends you get it. More women will be vaccinated against the most common strains of HPV if the cost of getting these shots are more manageable. The American Academy on Pediatrics swiftly condemned the insinuation that the vaccine may cause such side-effects as mental retardation and Perry made the non-hypocritical defense of his position that he will always "Err on the side of Life". Other conservative commentators explained, as they did with the compensation of birth control prescriptions, that having the HPV vaccine mandated by the government is going to result in more women having sex (but the same doesn't result for men having their Viagra pills covered?). So ye, slutty broads, get thee to a nunnery not a Planned Parenthood!
It boggles my mind when conservatives claim a concern for women's health or protecting individual liberties by blocking measures that would actually improve women's wellbeing (that's supported by medical professions not just politicians who say so) or support regulations that will result in restricting access to constitutionally supported rights. It's even more upsetting to me when it comes down to it most of these initiatives are motivated by a prejudiced view of women and their medical needs.