With the economy on the upswing, the Republican Party has chosen this moment to turn the focus away from President Obama’s successes and onto whether women have complete autonomy over their bodies and their reproductive health. Personhood amendments, controversy over contraception, state-sponsored vaginal probes for women seeking abortions in Virginia and congressional hearings on birth control with (almost) no women testifying have made news recently. Certainly this is ample evidence that the GOP may want to re-launch the culture wars that are so effective in dividing electorates in election years.
For those unfamiliar with personhood amendments, they are bills that define a fertilized egg as a person. That means that a woman who uses birth control pills, who has a miscarriage, or who has a legal abortion could be guilty of violating the law. Virginia and Oklahoma are the two states which very recently passed so-called personhood legislation and hilariously in the Oklahoma bill an amendment was added to declare every sperm is “sacred.” Every sperm.
It’s a good time to point out that Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land no matter what conservatives want Americans to believe. So why would Republicans in state legislatures across the country introduce legislation that is clearly unconstitutional? Feministing's Executive Editor Samhita Mukhopadhyay tells EBONY “[The introduction of personhood amendments] is a strategy on their part to get these issues included in the national conversation on women's rights. By changing the conversation so far to the right, it galvanizes opinions that should and most likely are on the margins, but they make it look like they are legitimate policy options. The Republican party, [both state legislatures and in Congress] voted for trans-vaginal ultrasounds and against the Violence Against Women Act in the same week—this coupled with the personhood amendments and the war on the birth control pill makes it really clear that the agenda of the GOP is to scale back women's rights at least 100 years.”
So the issue is not that Republicans think any of these bills are valid under the U.S. Constitution, it’s that they both can use them strategically to frame the conversations around women’s right all the way out on the far right plank and set up a appeals process which puts a case before the now conservative Supreme Court to force them to overturn Roe.
That brings us to another troubling development in a newly passed Virginia law (which Virginia’s ultra conservative Governor Bob McDonnell is expected to sign) which requires, not suggests but makes mandatory, a woman to undergo an ultrasound if she wishes to terminate her pregnancy. A trans-vaginal ultrasound would be used in most cases because most abortions take place within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy making a trans-vaginal probe necessary to detect the pregnancy for the ultrasound. This means that against her will a doctor under Virginia’s law will be mandated by the state to stick a foreign object inside a woman who is seeking an abortion. Critics of the measure have pointed out that this would actually constitute rape under Virginia law.
In defending the bill, Tea Party Republican and CNN contributor Dana Loesch made a familiar argument defending the trans-vaginal ultrasound saying that a women seeking an abortion can’t complain because they made the choice to have sex so that means that they must also consent to unwanted penetration by a doctor under the Virginia law. “That’s the big thing that progressives are trying to say, that it’s rape and so on and so forth. […] There were individuals saying, “Oh what about the Virginia rape? The rapes that, the forced rapes of women who are pregnant?” What? Wait a minute, they had no problem having similar to a trans-vaginal procedure when they engaged in the act that resulted in their pregnancy.” No words.
And all of this action on the state level occurred when our U.S. House of Representatives held a one sided hearing on President Obama’s new contraception accommodation for religious institutions under the Affordable Care Act. In a panel meant to discuss contraception and birth control pills, a group of all male clergy were the first panel of the day. An all male panel meant to discuss whether women should have affordable access to contraception and birth control options, as women de. Also, on Friday the billionaire head of Rick Santorum’s SuperPac Foster Freeis “joked” about back in his day “gals” used to put aspirin between the knees for contraception as a method to prevent pregnancy. (He later quipped that we didn’t get the joke).
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Republican party has launched an all out war on women. An assault on a women’s right to have autonomy and agency over their own health and reproductive options is happening right before our eyes and it has no appearances of slowing down.