Saturday, February 19, 2011

Republican War on Women

The news this week from Washington is as chilling as ever.  Forced last week to back away from (though not give up) their incredible and cruel attempt to redefine rape in such a way that women and girls (and even men and young boys) could be victimized, raped and abused in countless ways without legal protections or human rights,  the Republicans in Congress decided to attack the safety, health and autonomy of millions of women this week by voting to deny federal funding to Planned Parenthood.

Please read this short list of the recent attacks by religious conservatives,  through their political arm the Republican party, on the dignity, humanity, rights and freedoms of women and girls in the USA

The monstrous hypocrisy of the Republicans (not to mention the religious right) is truly frightening.

What I cannot understand is why the attack on women which is spreading over this country isn't getting front page attention on all of the news sources! In just the last month alone, Republicans (bowing to pressure from the religious right which seems to own their souls) have made attempts to redefine rape (!!), take away reproductive rights and to greatly reduce access to what reproductive options women still can legally choose - if they can find them at all.   Reproductive choice for women has become more and more difficult in the last two decades as Republican-led efforts to undermine reproductive rights has succeeded in making not just abortion, but also female-controlled contraception less and less available to millions of women.

I cannot believe the hatred and contempt in which the religious right - and now the Republican party -apparently hold women. The language is always fetus-focused while implacably unmoved by the plight  of the women whose lives are impacted by unplanned pregnancy, let alone respectful of their civil rights. Every argument for rights for the women is met with vague deflections (except by the most blatantly misogynistic) but the bottom line is this: the religious right seems to be driving toward a point where no woman can be allowed to have full human rights in this country.

It appears more and more likely that if conservatives get what they want,  then it is actually possible that in the near future no woman in the USA will be free to have sexual relationships of her own choosing, nor be able to time pregnancies as she wishes. 

The goal seems to be to strip women of their sexual freedom totally, leaving them at the mercy of the whims of the men they encounter.  Some of those men will be honorable and decent human beings who will not abuse women (though every sexual encounter will mean a possible pregnancy unless he doesn't want one and takes male-controlled steps to avoid it), but too many others will do what some men have done since the beginning of time: opportunistically prey on women who have been stripped of power, coerce or force sex on them and inevitably (in a world where reproductive rights and freedoms of women have been restricted to the point of a privilege for the wealthy) cause an unwanted pregnancy - the consequences of which the women will then face alone.

I cannot understand why women are not protesting in the streets.  Why are there not thousands protesting in front of the Capitol?  And yet,  I do sort of see what happened.

First, this has not been widely covered in the media so many women do not realise that their very status as fully human beings in this society is in peril - and that is a shameful dereliction of journalistic duty.

Second, I think too many women assume that since Roe vs Wade has survived numerous attacks in the courts and legislatures (even though nearly every attack has weakened it and chipped away at it) that the 1973 law can "never" be overturned and women's reproductive freedom will always be protected, even as we lose more power over our own bodies and destinies through creeping state and federal laws every year.

Third, the religious right has been allowed to control the message, the language and the power around reproductive rights for so long that women are intimidated (I won't say terrorized, but it may come to that) and afraid to speak up or protest because they feel so outnumbered and certainly far weaker than the huge, wealthy anti-choice machine.

Women - and men who respect and love women - need to stand up and speak out!   We need to launch a protest in Washington and not be silent any longer!  We have given too much control over this debate to the religious right and it is time that moral, upstanding, loving men and women stand up and speak out for protection of our civil rights!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

No One Ever Wants to Go There

I just saw an interesting video about a Museum of Religion in Glasgow. The St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art.  Check out the video; it is a fine way to spend 9:44!

There was a little discussion about it online, too. Most people thought it sounded like a great museum and they'd like to visit it. No one directly mentioned the vandalism that had happened right in front of museum goers nor the unapologetic fundamentalist who claimed that his religion justifies that he cannot and will not "accept" symbols of any other religion but his own being given "equal" billing with his religion.

I ventured the opinion that this---the brazen desecration of religious symbols in a public place, and the subsequent unapologetic fundamentalism--this is the truly important message in the video. I added my (unoriginal) opinion that fundamentalism is the root of much evil in the world and that hopefully, museums like this one and videos like this, too, would make people stop and think about this issue more.

I really hoped to see the discussion deepen into a discussion of the broader issues which this museum has inadvertently highlighted. I really, really hoped that some of the people who had posted to say they thought the museum looked interesting, wonderful and important to world peace, would follow up with thoughts about the reaction of fundamentalists. I really, really, really hoped to see people facing into that important discussion and not running away from it-again. I waited for an hour or so and...


My unwelcome point killed the conversation, by once again drawing attention to that promise and asking people to think about it, talk about it, wrap our minds around the possible ramifications.  It has to be faced: people just don't want to go there. We do not want to think about it, we do not want to know, we do not want to consider the part we all play in aiding and enabling extremists to flourish in our societies.

Sam Harris made the point that moderates all over the world enable extremists and fundamentalists to gain power and influence so that they can, eventually, impose their belief systems on people who do not choose it voluntarily. The point Harris made is really unavoidable, if you follow the idea of fundamentalist belief to its logical conclusion. If a fundamentalist really believes that his ideology is the only true path, then eventually and inevitably he will have to fight to the death for it. Along the way, and hopefully before he has to die for his beliefs, a fundamentalist will be able to use his fundamentalist ideology to justify (in his own mind) killing other people who will not accept his ideology.

That's what we've seen happening throughout the world in various forms from the beginning of recorded history (and no doubt it was going on before). Religious and ideological fundamentalism has been the root cause of just about everything evil on earth; war, murder, genocide (especially genocide). Fundamentalism is a take-no-prisoners, no exceptions kind of ideology and its logical fulfillment is eventually to eliminate all rivals.

You're either with us or you're against us. There is no middle ground, no grey area, no morally difficult situations and no mercy. This is fundamentalist thinking, and it is evil.

Abortion Revisited...Again

(Another older essay)

Before the 2008 election, I read Anna Quindlen's column on the legal consequences of abortion, should Roe v Wade be overturned by the Supreme Court, and I thought "My God, this is IT! This is the discussion that we should be having!" Quindlen made a very strong argument for all of us to think about: we need to know, if a candidate opposes abortion rights for women, what are the consequences he or she personally would expect a person to pay, if abortion was re-criminalized and that person has an abortion anyway?

If you ask most people what kind of punishment should there be for abortion, should it be re-criminalized (made illegal once again as it was before Roe v Wade), they are uncomfortable at best and cannot give a punishment (some say, “no punishment”) or at worst, they call for the death penalty for those who have abortions or perform abortions.

I think this is a question which deserves a great deal more attention, because if the religious right has its way, and abortion is re-criminalized, it will most definitely become an issue. Many people are numb to the worn out "abortion debate" and last year, many thought it might finally just be a niche issue before the last election (a refreshing change from some earlier elections); but this issue continues to mean much more than that.

In 2006, South Dakota's legislature voted to ban abortions statewide, in spite of the fact that 75% of South Dakotans polled said that they felt that increasing initiatives to prevent unwanted pregnancies was far more important than criminalizing abortion. Luckily, the people of South Dakota voted against the ban on the November (2008) ballot, but in spite of this, South Dakota lawmakers continue to go against the will of the people who elected them to represent them--and continue to introduce anti-reproductive rights legislation.

A couple of other states lined up behind SD to do the same thing. These were tester cases, put out there to test the waters in hopes of setting a precedent which could then be presented before the Supreme Court eventually to support overturning Roe V Wade once and for all.

Voters put those legislators in office, even though the majority of voters do not agree with this stance on reproductive rights for women. This is what happens when we do not ask enough questions before casting a ballot. Even though the 2008 election is now in the past, there is the 2010 election coming up which could change the balance in Congress again, and once again reproductive rights could be in jeopardy.

Overturning Roe v Wade would set back women's rights over half a century but it would also enshrine in the national payche that it is OK to force maternity on women; that the needs and desperate situations of women do not matter; that state-sanctioned misogyny is A-OK. That a man may be promiscuous, may be brutal, may force her, abuse her and impregnate her against her will, and she will be forced by the state to bear the consequences.

Quindlen also made an important point about the "prosecute the doctor, not the woman" justification, which basically regards the woman as the hapless body upon whom yet another assault was made. It seems to assume that women are not capable of rational thought and are mere bodies with no self-control or self-determination, to whom abortions are presented as the first and only option, and who are seemingly incapable of resisting a presumed pressure to go through with an abortion. I think we need to think more carefully about what this assumption implies.

If women are haplessly, helplessly, stupidly, incompetently unable to prevent abortions from happening to themselves...and this becomes enshrined in law...then what's to stop the logical next step? It cannot be going much further to decide that women who are so mentally incompetent that they can haplessly participate in what the state may deem is a form of murder also may not be competent enough for other rights? Surely an unwitting participant in murder is not trustworthy nor capable enough to vote. Perhaps a person this easily swayed by others is also too incompetent to have bank accounts, too incompetent and too stupid to own property, and so on.

Talk about a slippery slope.

Sentencing for criminalized abortion is the question that candidates in every election should be made to answer. They avoid talking about penalties and consequences because, as Quindlen points out, it is a LOSER for them in the polls! Voters carry on in ignorance thinking "pro-life" just means an innocently misguided and somewhat quaint approach to life: they think their rights are safe, yet they are coasting and not safeguarding them. The old abortion debate puts them to sleep and they think it is irrelevant.

This is exactly what the anti-abortion candidates and their followers want; they hope to slip into power with most voters never quite "getting" what they really want to do, and then change laws and alter American women's lives horribly for the worse. After they've been voted in on economic or other promises, the real agenda of taking away a woman's right over her own body will go ahead to its final stage (the first stages being the steady erosion of abortion rights ever since RvW in 1973, so that abortion, like Plan b and even contraception, is already extremely difficult to get and impossible in some states).

I don’t know how many people know this, but currently fewer than 85% of counties in the United States of America make abortion accessible for women. Reproductive rights for women have already been eroded by a steady drip of smaller bits of anti-rights legislation. If Roe v Wade is overturned or if current laws limiting access to abortion are made any tougher, women may be faced with near-total lack of control over their lives---denied access to effective female-controlled birth control, denied access to emergency birth control even in cases of rape, and finally, denied access to therapeutic abortions, even when necessary for her own health and safety.

If voters allow that to happen, it will be too late to do anything about it.

A discussion that forces candidates to admit what penalties he or she would fight for in criminalizing abortion might, just might, make complacent voters sit up and take notice. It would force people to figure out where they really stand on this issue and decide once and for all if a majority in this country really do want to take away women’s reproductive rights and are willing to back that up with prison time or capital punishment.

More important, it would force answers from candidates who will go on to hold public office and have the power to influence legislation and vote for legislation which could hugely impact 50% of the population immediately.

We need to know where candidates stand on this! Picking a candidate because he blathers on reassuringly about “family values” and morality” so that we all do the knee-jerk unthinking response, “Hey, we are moral and we value family! So maybe this guy is a good guy who will help and not hurt us!” is NOT the way for thoughtful and intelligent voters to proceed. We must force ourselves to think more deeply about these issues and the consequences of taking chances on candidates because we either don’t care or don’t have the energy to do a little research into what he or she truly stands for.

“If abortion was re-criminalized in the USA, what should be the punishment for persons who break the law and have abortions anyway?”. It’s a fair question. It is a crucially important question, too.

I hope American voters start asking that question and don't stop asking it until every candidate has been forced to answer before November 2010.