A Feminist Life, Etc. 

by Beverly McPhail 

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Call to Texas Women:  First They Came for the Women Who Needed Abortions 

The year 2012 has been a tumultuous one for women. Rights won and battles fought decades ago are coming back to life like zombies from a bad B-movie. Although the "war on women" is happening nationally, Texas constitutes the front lines of the battlefield. Women activists in Virginia managed to beat back the transvaginal probe requirement in their mandatory sonogram bill, considered by some to be rape by the state, but a harsher sonogram bill passed in the Texas Legislature last year with enforcement starting this year. One wonders: Where is the outcry from Texas women?

Texas women are often described as having big hair, twangy accents, and clothes that glitter. But another tradition of Texas women exists along side this caricature-- tough talking, hard driving women who didn’t suffer fools, ran for office, and advocated for the rights of women and other marginalized groups, usually with a husky laugh and a clever turn of phrase. Women like Ann Richards, Molly Ivins, and Barbara Jordan. 

Molly Ivins’ last column before her death from breast cancer was a clarion call to action:  “We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous.” Although she was specifically writing about the war in Iraq, her words resonate equally well for the current war on women. 

However, we don’t need to call Ann, Molly, and Barbara back from their respective graves (may they rest in peace), but living, breathing Texas women need to rise up and fight the regressive powers that seem intent on dragging women by the hair back to an earlier time that some men recall with nostalgic fondness and many women recall with horror. A time when women couldn’t own property, vote, keep their own wages, gain custody of their children, or control their own bodies or reproductive lives.  

There are a multitude of excuses that women offer to rationalize their lack of political participation:  We are tired. We are busy. We are working in our jobs and raising our families. There is laundry to be done, bills to be paid, and a project due at work. Politics is too messy. Or we are too busy surfing the web or watching reality television. Or this is about other women and not me.

However, such excuses are reminiscent of the famous statement attributed to Martin Niemoller about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power when one by one certain groups were selected for purging.  The text starts, “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist . . . ”

The paraphrased version for Texas women today would read:

First they came for the women who needed abortions, and even though one in three women in the United States will have an abortion in her lifetime, I didn’t speak out because I didn’t think I think I would ever need one.

Then they came for poor women’s health care by shutting down the Medicaid Women’s Health Program, which provided breast cancer screenings and pap smears for cervical cancer screening, and I didn’t speak out because I am not a poor woman.

Then they came for outspoken women who express their opinions on birth control mandates in preventive health care policy, like Georgetown University Law Center student Sandra Fluke, and I didn’t speak out because I was afraid I, too, would be branded a slut and a prostitute. 

Then they came to take away women’s birth control (more than 99% of sexually active women aged 15-44 have used at least one contraceptive method reports the Guttmacher Institute) and I did not speak out because I am beyond childbearing years.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.

What will it take for Texas women to use our voices and our votes to protect poor women’s health care, roll back restrictive and onerous abortion regulations, and gain back control of our bodies, our lives, and our daughters’ futures? 

Women as Political Footballs in the Super Bowl of Life 

Although the Super Bowl game was played last week, women can be forgiven for thinking the game is still on when our bodies are being used as political footballs as public policy is made and electoral campaigns waged. With the recent spate of bad news on the reproductive front, women’s bodies are emerging as bruised and battered as the Patriots’ defensive line.

First down: Religious hospitals and universities are claiming their liberties are being curtailed with the Obama administration’s decision that they are not exempt from providing their employees and students free birth control as part of the new health care reform. Many Catholic leaders say that their refusal to provide a vital service to women is a matter of conscience. I agree, it is a matter of conscience. For instance, how in good conscience can religious institutions deny women the right to basic health care and the right to control their own bodies?

The male pope and priests refuse to provide birth control that surveys’ report 98% of Catholic women already use, despite church teachings prohibiting its use. The male hierarchy is clearly out of step with the women in their employ, the students in their universities and the female patients in their hospitals. This lack of understanding of women is ironic for the son of God they so revere reached out to women, valued women, and included in his circle of confidants.  Catholic universities and hospitals are claiming that the government is imposing on religion, but actually the opposite is true:  religious institutions are imposing their faith-based beliefs on women who may or may not share the values or beliefs of the religious institutions that they work for or the schools they attend or the hospitals they are admitted to. It is additionally appalling to see the Republican presidential candidates pile on as they figuratively climb over the bodies of women on their route to the Oval Office.

Second down: U.S District Court Judge Sam Sparks was unable to prevent the new sonogram law from taking effect in Texas this week. In reaction, State Senator Dan Patrick said, “There’s no other piece of legislation anywhere else in the country that has that kind of impact. I don’t take credit for it. It’s in God’s hands.”  Conservatives in the United States frequently decry Islamic theocracies overseas while constructing a Christian theocracy here at home. A common proverb holds that everything is bigger and better in Texas, apparently including the hubris and hypocrisy of its politicians.  A man I didn’t vote for and his god that I don’t believe in have the power to control my body.  A sad state of affairs for freedom-loving Texan women.

Third Down: Male popes, politicians and priests don’t seem to realize the insult they do to women in regulating our lives through law and religious dictates.  Virginia State Senator Janet Howell tried to remedy this oversight by proposing an amendment to her state’s ultrasound bill that would have required men to undergo a cardiac stress test and rectal exam before obtaining a prescription for erectile dysfunction medication. She reasoned that if the Virginia Senate is going to impose unnecessary and inconvenient medical procedures on women, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Her amendment  failed while the ultrasound bill passed. Although conservatives legislators decry the budget deficit, they are oblivious to their appalling empathy deficit.

Fourth Down: The push back on the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to withdraw funding for breast cancer screening for poor women because Planned Parenthood staff conducted the exams had a lot of people crying unsportsmanlike conduct.  Thanks to fan noise Komen backed down and its anti-choice Vice President Karen Handel resigned. Komen’s initial decision energized women and their male allies across the spectrum who are tired of the politicization of women’s health care. The sleeping giant has been awakened from its slumber and it’s not the team from New York. It is halftime in America and American women are suiting up to defend our rights and gain back lost yardage.

Here’s one possible defense strategy to counter the offensive line’s attack on women’s rights and bodily autonomy: Since the Supreme Court’sCitizen’s United decision deemed that corporations are people, women should incorporate ourselves. That way Republicans would call for deregulation of our bodies, stay out of our business, and even lower our taxes.  For they respect and trust corporations; women, not so much.