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An Old Feminist Confronts the Young: Mobilize Against the War on Women!

By Elaine Leeder

            I have been closely following the current Republican “war on women” and am amazed at how little is being written by young women who will be directly impacted by the regressive policies that are being enacted and proposed for the future.

As a feminist for the past 45 years, I have been active in all the culture wars, from abortion to birth control, from domestic violence to equal pay for equal work, from access to health care to the portrayal of women in the media. I have been waiting to hear the voices of the next generation, those who should be taking over these battles. Alas, I am afraid those voices are not out there—are people asleep? Do they not know that as we speak, all that has been accomplished in the name of women’s rights is being attacked and undermined by the current Republican governors, members of Congress, and candidates?

When I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, birth control and abortions were not available, especially in Massachusetts where I was living. Many friends had to go across state lines to receive such services, and one friend died of sepsis because of a self-abortion attempt. These are not long ago phenomena; they occurred within our lifetimes, and those times could be back upon us again!

This is a call to arms for all women and men who are concerned about the direction that policies are taking in this country. Is this the nation you want—one that takes away equal pay for equal work, disallows birth control and cuts back medical care for women, one that slowly is taking away the rights won in Roe v. Wade? Let me elaborate:

The Republican party calls the “war on women” a figment of the Democratic imagination. But the policies proposed clearly look like a war to me. A recent New York Times article enumerated the evidence:

It noted that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer had signed a bill eliminating all public funding for Planned Parenthood, even though a law already on the books banned use of public monies for abortion, which Planned Parenthood was not doing in any case! Now, women can’t get Planned Parenthood services for non-abortion screening like cancer or family planning. Often, there is no other place for poor women to receive such services. Brewer also signed a law that bans most abortions and makes women decide if they should have an abortion very early in their pregnancy—before they know if the fetus is healthy or not. And the law also omits reasonable exceptions for women’s health or cases of rape, incest or problematic pregnancies.

            In Texas, Governor Rick Perry tried to do the same thing, but a coalition of clinics sued to stop him. He argued that they would deny funds to any organization that promotes abortions, even though Texas had already not been giving abortions and the clinics that sued were not performing abortions. Texas also tried to pass laws to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood and Title X, which is the federal program that gives women birth control, life-saving screening for breast and cervical cancer, and preventive care. So now in Texas, 52 clinics have closed, women are buying fewer contraceptives, and they are not taking their prescriptions regularly. Another 38 clinics have had their hours cut, the cost of well-women visits has increased, and examinations are now priced out of reach for poor women. Needless to say, many of us are worried about this becoming a role model for others to emulate in their war on women.

Then there is the Fluke/Limbaugh controversy. Some might laugh Rush Limbaugh off for calling Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University law student, a slut, prostitute, and whore for wanting Georgetown’s student health insurance to cover her birth control costs. Georgetown is a Catholic university, and the administration there argued that it should not have to provide such services to employees or students because of their religious convictions.

Fluke had been invited to speak to the House of Representatives’ Oversight Committee and Government Reform Committee about the new administration rule on conscience clause exceptions to health care. But she was denied participation although all the other speakers were men and members of the clergy. Later, she did speak to the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on the issue. It was then that Limbaugh lambasted her on his radio show. Many complained about his outrageous statement, even some Republicans. To those of us who followed this event, it was a blatant attempt to silence an outspoken and intelligent young woman who dared to speak against the dominant hegemony of power.

And then we have the issue of equal pay for equal work. That, too, is being eroded by this war on women. As the Times reported, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has signed the repeal of a law allowing women and others to bring suits over pay discrimination and would have stiffened penalties for wage discrimination. And President Obama has been thwarted by opponents in his attempt to fix the 1962 Equal Pay Act so that victims of gender-based wage discrimination can be shielded from retaliation if they share salary information with coworkers.

Finally, there is the evidence of this war on women in the area of domestic violence. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives omitted new protections for gay, Indian, student and immigrant abuse victims from the Senate-passed reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which protects domestic violence and sexual abuse victims. Now, immigrant women are no longer protected from abuse, and are more likely to stay with their abusers if their immigrant status depends on that spouse. The law also stops undocumented immigrants from reporting and cooperating with law enforcement.

Women’s rights and health care are becoming victims of the Republican political agenda. Is this what you want to see happen? We are now compelled to fight the old fights many of us thought we had won. We are just one Supreme Court justice away from a repeal of Roe v. Wade. In 2011, the Republicans in the House took eight votes on choice alone. Twenty-six states have enacted a total of 69 anti-choice measures!

Dear Young Voters: Those of us who fought these battles years ago are old and dying off. We are far from our child-bearing age. We need you to educate and inform yourselves on these issues. We need you to get involved on the state and local levels. We need you to become unsubmissive and engaged citizens. This is your world now. Please, please, please wake up and do something now!

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  • Dcembre

    Very good article but…sorry to say the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s were lots of fun but just a phase that has expired. It won’t come back…

  • Gigi

    hear, hear!

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