In the years I worked in public policy and non-profits in Washington, D.C., I saw adored and reviled Members of Congress (MoC) alike engage in frequent, slightly outlandish hyperbole. Cutting taxes was an attack on the needs of the American citizen; raising them was an attack on citizens themselves. Passing the Patriot Act was an assault on the constitution; not passing it was an assault on America and All It Stands For. Unless an issue was near and dear to my heart or to someone close to me, I learned to tune out a great deal of the white noise. And now, as I see MoC jumping up and down, screaming, trying to get the attention of not just the pro-choice community but also every man and woman in this country who believes, however minimally, in a woman’s right to choose, or to have access to affordable medical care, or not to be left to die in a hospital emergency room because a medical provider has a moral stance to take that they deem more important than that woman’s life, I understand what is happening here. Our elected officials are trying to get through the white noise.
Your elected representatives are terrified for you.
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is calling anti-choice legislation in Congress “a violent act against women“; these are not words to be taken lightly from a woman whose close friend and colleague, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was actually shot in her district by a man intent on preventing her from doing her job. Representative DeGette says these bills, “are really about limiting women’s rights to reproductive care.”
On the national level, Republicans in the House of Representatives are offering legislation that would make it extraordinarily difficult for women to pay for abortions, even if they bought their own health insurance. The legislation would make it nearly impossible for an abortion to ever be covered by a provider, even when the mother needed one; this would disproportionately impact women living in poverty. In addition, legislation has been proposed to make it more difficult to access family planning in general, and to cut funding for family planning clinics. Planned Parenthood, where 97% of the services provided are unrelated to abortion, is particularly under attack. The lesson here is: we will not help you prevent pregnancy, and when you get pregnant, we will not help you decide what to do, we will make any choice besides carrying the pregnancy to term a complete impossibility. Oh, and it gets better; funding for many programs that help families in need is being drastically cut, naturally, what with this economy, so once we have effectively forced you to have a child, we will not provide any of the help or resources necessary to raise it.
Does this sound even as simple as “anti-abortion” legislation to you? Because it is not. It is, as the female Speaker of the House and now Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi so simply, eloquently stated, “the most comprehensive and radical assault on women’s health in our lifetime. It’s that bad.”
Legislation moving through the House right now would also allow health care providers to simply let women die, in hospitals, if an abortion could save their life and the hospital or its employees did not want to provide one. It’s called the “Protect Life Act”; feel free to comment on the irony, but honestly, examining all of this legislation from all of these angles leaves me too tired and heartsick to come up with so much as a snarky comment. Prior to an outraged cry from many, many communities that support women, the language in one of these bills would have drastically re-defined what rape means in this country, going so far as to assert that women who are drugged and raped would not qualify for abortions because the rape was not “forcible.”
In the Iowa State House of Representatives, a bill banning abortion completely, even in cases of rape and incest, has passed a subcommittee and will likely be brought to the floor for a vote. In Ohio, a bill has been brought to the floor of the State House that would ban abortions in the first trimester – as soon as the fetus has a heartbeat, which can be anywhere from 18 days to 6 weeks, and occurs well before brain functions or viability. Both of these bills are meant to directly challenge Roe v. Wade, and with an extremely conservative, activist Supreme Court, there is every chance that within a few years it will be overturned, and it will be impossible to get an abortion in many states in this country.
In one of the more notable, horrifying, extreme cases among the many we are dealing with at present, South Dakota has introduced legislation that would justify murder in the name of preventing an abortion. The bill in question would make the murder of staff members and volunteers at clinics which provide abortions, as well as doctors, “justifiable homicide”. That one hits a little close to home. That hits where I hold in my heart the image of incredible men and women who support total strangers past the gauntlet of protesters into a clinic so they can receive the care they need. Were one of them to be killed in South Dakota by a family member trying to exert an unimaginable patriarchal hold over a woman’s body, that death, that intense sacrifice, would be deemed, by the state of South Dakota, “justifiable”. May there never come a day when we need to hear how that volunteer’s spouse, partner, children or parents feel about that.
It is worth noting how much of this legislation that has been promoted to “protect life” – life that doesn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, actually exist yet, life that has never been lived, the mere idea of potential life – actually makes way for anti-choice extremists to either directly kill women and men, or simply let them die. This is the kind of assault we are dealing with here. Are we listening yet?