Saturday, February 19, 2011

Blame the Witches

by Caryn Hunt

Back in the 1500s, if there was a devastating plague or drought, religious authorities recommended a sound purging of the bad elements: Burn the witches and prosperity will return. So religiously motivated attacks on women are not so new.

Americans, feeling the pain of recession, looking for relief, voted for a Republican Party majority in the US House and many state legislatures last election. Republicans told voters they had the answer to fix everything, and it was deceptively simple. They said don't worry about climate change, or skyrocketing unemployment, or regulating Wall Street, or whether you can afford health care. Americans were soothed by the message they need do nothing more than promote Republicans to power. Nevermind that the economic crisis was Bush's legacy.

So is creating jobs at the top of our nation's agenda? No. House Speaker John Boehner has cast the lot of his Party with religious fundamentalists, and signaled that the important problems we face as a nation will surely best be solved by first attacking women's reproductive freedom. Responding to his fatwa, House Republicans have introduced various bills designed to set back women's rights by decades, including legislation to defund our nation's most vital and respected source for women's health care, Planned Parenthood, a long-time target for the religious right. Representative Chris Smith introduced the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion” bill, HR 3. Nevermind that taxpayer money has not been used to fund abortion for 35 years.

The Pennsylvania GOP is following lockstep with Senator Don White's bill to ban abortion in state exchanges, Senate Bill 3. Nevermind that during the national health care reform debate Congress incorporated pro-life Democratic Senator Ben Nelson's amendment into the Affordable Health Care Act, which obliges women to write a separate check to their insurance company to pay for abortion coverage. Nevermind that SB 3 is completely unnecessary.

And nevermind that abortion is a legal right and a common medical procedure one out of four women will go through in their lifetime, but that lack of access, stigmatization, and violence against practitioners makes a difficult decision a nightmare for many women.

Indeed it's high time taxpayer money was used for abortion care. For too long, low-income women have had to suffer unequal, inadequate access to reproductive health care in this country, including abortion care.

As long as our youth stumble ignorantly into sexual activity, as long as birth control is not 100% reliable or accessible, as long as pregnancies don't progress as planned, there will be a need for abortion. Abortion bans will drive more women to unscrupulous back-alley practitioners like Kermit Gosnell, and will lead to deaths.

SB 3, like its federal counterpart, is a purely politically motivated bill that would leave Pennsylvania women worse off than they are today. It treats women as second class citizens and denies them their full rights. It heaps misery on women simply because it is women who bear children and thus also the responsibility of figuring out, individually, when it is best for them to become parents.

So, would further restricting the rights of women set aright our course for this country? Considering that women are half the population and half the workforce, I wouldn't bet on it. A lot has changed in 500 years. The religious opinions of our lawmakers have no business being translated into laws regulating a woman's body.


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