What “The War On Women’s Health” Is Really All About

by George Kennedy on February 25, 2012

 

The war on women’s health is first and foremost repugnant.  It masquerades as a wedge issue to disguise the fact that the GOP and conservatives have not entered this current election period from a vantage point of strength on the economy or foreign policy.  Moreover, the GOP is at war with itself.  Their Tea Party and right wing Christian evangelical base is dispirited but they are vocal and organized.  The two groups also respond well to cultural wedge issues:  religion, abortion, and contraception.  In this election, their preference is for a candidate who reflects their myopic view of the world.

In the 2012 election, all of the Republican presidential aspirations (with the possible exception of Ron Paul) and their radical supporters are persistent in their ongoing efforts to return women to the comical status of barefoot, pregnant, and, preferably, at home.  Sounds eerily reminiscent of a pre-American frontier era.  It is irrelevant to Republican conservatives that they are on the wrong side of history.  It only matters that they remain persistent in their efforts to prevail.  There are occasions when persistence is a virtue.  On the issues of who should control women’s health care and contraception, their persistence is an abomination and an affront to women everywhere.

Conservative attempts to put this particular genie back into the bottle are futile and are likely to galvanize women into action on a scale reminiscent of their campaign to gain their franchise in the 1920s.  This time, however, women are not alone in pushing back against this latest evil.  Millions of men who support and love them, and are their partners on the issue of contraception, are in the trenches with them.  Choice, contraception, health care, and abortion all relate to a woman’s health, and the simple fact is, public policy should not intrude.  Women understand this; social conservatives do not.  You can spin this in myriad ways but women do not.

Here is a larger context that may help to explain conservatives’ fixation on abortion and the larger issue of women’s health since they captured a goodly number of state houses and the House of Representatives in the election of 2010.  The Republicans war on women reflects their growing anxiety about this country’s evolution from rural to urban-industrial and what they view as the “excesses” of our pluralist tradition.  They see nothing but doom and gloom in modern life.

The moral universe that offered conservatives comfort, refuge, and strength was built around the values of America’s Anglo-Saxon pioneers, values that have since expanded in scope and application for almost a century.  Men – white men – once determined the outcome of public debates over reproduction, race, immigration, sexuality, permissiveness, creation vs. evolution, and school prayer.

The decades from the 1930s through the 1970s bore witness to demographic shifts that had a permanent effect on power sharing arrangements that continue to strike fear into the hears of conservatives, GOP traditionalists, and their right wing allies.  Two developments in particular provoked the most aggressive pushback.  The clamorous years of the 1950s and 1960s saw African-Americans disrupting the established order to become fully enfranchised and socially integrated.   And, women’s liberation was a companion effort that produced freedoms and rights women earned and felt were permanent.  The emphasis here is on “permanent.”

The stakes for conservatives in this “war” are no less than their uncontested domination of the important aspects of American life:  the economy, the family, education, religion, and values.  Central to their fear over a loss of domination in those areas is the expanded definition of family and women demanding control over their sexuality.  This is at the heart of conservative politics.

Author Alan Lichtman writes, “in this view (conservatives), a morally ordered society requires a morally ordered family, with clear lines of divinely ordained masculine authority and the containment of women’s erotic allure.”  Lichtman continues:  …”sex, education in schools, abortion rights, easy divorces, and the tolerance of homosexuality and other forms of deviance undercut the reproduction and orderly progress of civilization.”  This is their narrow view of civilization in a 21st century world.   It is ironic that women have sacrificed their lives in opposition to the repression of women by the Taliban in Afghanistan.  How is it they would be expected to countenance similar policies here at home?

Among conservatives and the Christian right, the war to re-establish domination over the family and women can only have one outcome:  the capitulation of women and their progressive allies.

Over the last several decades, women have grown into and become comfortable and competitive in roles that transcend that of primary caregiver.  Women are now 50 percent of the population, 50 percent of the workforce, and equal partners in shaping American society and America’s role in the world.  Women are focused on the future, not their sexuality as seen through the lens of men.

The probable political consequences of this war in 2012 are worth reiterating.  There are tens of millions of young women alive today who feel fully empowered to control their sexuality, the need and timing for contraception, and all aspects of their reproductive rights.  An unpopular, unwanted war to control their most personal decisions may become the catalyst to generate a massive turnout in the fall election.  This is a whirlwind the GOP appears destined to reap.  The choice is theirs.

Here is another 21st century reality conservatives appear unlikely to grasp.  Women’s horizons today extend from the home to the workplace; and, from her community to her country and beyond.  If this country is to address the challenges that impact the lives of all its citizens (half of whom are women) and its place among the community of nations, it cannot do so with 50 percent of its population in bondage to a 19th century worldview.

America in this century will experience an historic shift in the coloration of its population from a majority white to a majority brown and Black.  That is a direct result of immigration policies, not a conspiracy.  Conservatives appear to long for the halcyon days of the 1950s while women, minorities, and independents embrace change as American society evolves.  Women are integral to giving voice, shape and direction to this change.

The incoming tide of change is 20 feet high and only the total effort of the community can halt the water’s advance.  That includes women – and they know it!

The view from the millions of women who work from home, on the factory floor, the office, the executive suites, and the highest levels of government, shows at least one unshakeable reality, perhaps the most feared to conservatives.  The confidence reposed in the ability of women to lead, to inspire is growing and it is the U.S. that is mired in the 19th century.  Women are equally capable of assuming more traditional roles in conjunction with larger responsibilities, but the choice must be theirs.

The anachronism of men arguing about the rights and freedoms of women is in stark contrast to the images of women by other women who are the president or prime minister in 19 countries around the world.

Six of them are in our southern hemisphere.

(Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany; Johanna Sigurdardottir, Prime Minister of Iceland; Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia; Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Prime Minister of Denmark; Tarja Halonen, President of Finland; Prathiba Patil, President of India; Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, President of Argentina; Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh; Dalia Grybauskaite, President of Lithuania; Laura Chinchilla, President of Costa Rica; Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Prime Minister, Trinidad and Tobago; Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia; Portia Simpson-Miller, Prime Minister of Jamaic; Dilma Vana Rousseff, President of Brazil; Atifete Jahjaga, President of Kosovo; Yingluck Shinawatra, Prime Minister of Thailand; Iveta Radicova, Prime Minister of Slovakia; Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, President of Switzerland; and, Cisse Mariam Kaidama Sidibe, Prime Minister of Mali. )

A ‘President Santorum’ would hopefully have the grace to reserve his opinions regarding the lifestyle choices of several of these political leaders.  It is safe to suggest they would be uninterested in his views.

I do not presume to speak for women but would offer an observation.  A reasonable interpretation of the prevailing mood among women in 2012 is they are deeply worried, often frantic, about tomorrow.  Life for many of them is precarious and opportunities are few.  However, the transcendent emotion is most likely hope.  They want change and they want a secure, brighter, and more prosperous future for themselves, their families, and their community.

They also appear prepared to confront those who would wage war against them when they are not the enemy.

George Kennedy

George Kennedy is a retired senior Foreign Service officer with extensive international experience. He holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon and two graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. Mr. Kennedy was a political advisor to state and federal officials and has authored strategy pieces for Members of Congress and presidential candidates. He serves on the Advisory Board for the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona.

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