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A GOP victory and women’s health?

... Maggie Mahar on the eve of the Republican Convention

Note to readers: I welcome reader comments and questions, and will try my best to reply in a timely manner. I ask only that you do your part to keep our discussion both reasoned and polite. – MM

In 2012, Republicans demonstrated just how far the so-called “War Against Women” has gone, voting against reauthorizing the “Violence Against Women Act,” (VAWA), a 20-year-old bill that has streamlined laws against domestic violence across the country.

And women are supposed to believe that Republicans care about our health?

The New York Times reports that some conservative groups view the VAWA as “a slush fund for feminist causes that harms men unfairly and encourages the dissolution of marriages.”

In the past, renewal of the VAWA has breezed through Congress. This year, reauthorization turned into a partisan issue – signaling that the “war” is escalating.

In the Senate, Iowa’s Chuck Grassley – the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee – claimed that the bill didn’t do enough to “root out waste in federal anti-domestic violence programs, and expands prosecutorial powers too broadly in other areas.” When the Committee voted, all eight Republicans followed him.

Conservatives argued that Democrats “politicized” the bill by broadening protection to include same-sex couples, Native Americans, and undocumented immigrants who have been battered or sexually assaulted. Frequently, these victims don’t come forward because they fear deportation. In the past, the VAWA has set aside 10,000 visas for those who cooperate with the police. Democrats simply wanted to expand the number of visas to 15,000.

Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked a pointed question: “If a family comes to this country and the husband beats his wife to a bloody pulp, do we say, sorry, you’re illegal you don’t deserve any protection? When you call the police in America, they come, regardless of who you are.”

In the end, reauthorization passed the Senate 68 to 31, with 15 Republicans joining the majority. Every single female Republican senator voted “Yes.” This suggests that, at bottom, this was a woman’s issue, not a fight over illegal immigrants, or gays and lesbians.

But in the House, the VAWA hit a partisan wall. Ultimately, House Republicans pushed through a stripped-down bill that the Senate will not approve. Today, the VAWA remains in limbo.

How Republicans and Democrats differ

The Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act provides “free screening and counseling” (no co-pays and no deductibles) for victims of domestic violence, without worrying that this will lead to the “dissolution of marriages,” as sane women flee abuse. This is just one of eight free preventive services that the ACA offers to women including: no-cost birth control; breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling, plus screening for sexually transmitted diseases.

Yet Mitt Romney promises that he will do his best to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Thus, women would lose all of the above – plus protection against being gouged by insurers. Today, in the individual market, one-third of all health plans charge women at least 30 percent more than they charge men – even for policies that do not include maternity benefits.

Beyond abortion

Mitt Romney has called Roe vs. Wade “one of the darkest moments in Supreme Court history.” If he wins the White House this fall, he vows that he will “get rid of” Planned Parenthood.

If Republicans confined themselves to opposing abortion, their war against women would not be so scary. As New York Magazine‘s Frank Rich has written: “it would be easy to understand and perhaps easy to file away as the same old, same old.” But Republican opposition to contraception without co-pays “has nothing to do with abortion, and indicates how much broader the animus is.”

House Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Penn.) demonstrated that animus on August 1, the day the ACA’s guarantee of contraception went into effect. On the House floor, Kelly declared, “this is a date that will live in infamy, along with … September 11 and December 7, the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. ”

As for Mitt Romney, he supports state “personhood laws” that define a fertilized egg as a “person.” Such laws make both in vitro fertilization and common forms of contraception (IUDs) illegal.

The crusade becomes more extreme

Meanwhile, a New York Times editorial warns, on July 18, the House Appropriations Committee approved a new Republican spending proposal that “revives some of the more extreme attacks on women’s health and freedom that were blocked by the Senate earlier in this Congress. The resurrection is part of an alarming national crusade that goes beyond abortion rights and strikes broadly at women’s health in general.”

Title X and cervical cancer

The legislation would eliminate financing for Title X, a program for low-income women that provides birth control, breast cancer screenings and Pap smears. Pap smears can come close to eliminating cervical cancer – as they have in countries where they are available at no cost.

Nevertheless, in Texas – which has one of the highest cervical cancer rates in the nation – Republican Governor Rick Perry already has rejected Title X money, assuring that countless poor women will be denied access to Pap smears.

Title X does not fund abortions or abortion counseling. To the contrary, it prevents abortions and unintended pregnancies. Without this program, according to the Guttmacher Institute, unintended pregnancies would lead to some 400,000 more abortions a year.

How the GOP has shifted on women’s issues

Romney also would bring an end to Title X, even though this was a family-planning program supported by President Richard Nixon and Congressman George Bush when it was created in 1970. Since then the GOP has moved far to the right on women’s issues.

Frank Rich explains: the GOP “started backing away from … women’s issues at the tail end of the Nixon presidency,” following advice from “political strategists eager to exploit the growing backlash against the sixties feminist movement.”

The House’s Republican budget bill stands little chance of passing. Even so, “the subcommittee’s anti-woman work product is a statement of Republican policy,” the Times notes, and “will be a starting point for negotiations on a budget deal with the Senate.”

Women – and men who like women – should keep this in mind in November, both when choosing a president, and when pulling the lever for a legislator.


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