Don't be fooled by the Limbaugh backlash. It's true that progressives and women's groups are fighting back with unprecedented vigor, and the campaigns against Komen, against Rush Limbaugh's sexist smears, against the Blunt Amendment, show that women can organize quickly and powerfully over social media. And yes, it remains crucial that the nasty sexism and racism emitting from the shock jock is finally getting its deserved public airing.
But extremist politicians haven't gotten the message yet: the policies that mirror and feed from Limbaugh's smears still exist, and may in fact be worsening. The GOP War on Women is in full throttle over a year since it kicked off, taking its toll in particular on the state level where recent data shows that all the posturing has dramatically changed living conditions for women—and not for the better.
Here are five ways the GOP are continuing their onslaught on women's rights that are crying out for the kind of intense pushback that we now know women's and reproductive justice advocates are capable of:
1-Women are losing ground—fast—on abortion rights in states that were previously neutral. On Thursday morning, the Guttmacher Institute released some shocking data—although it's less shocking for those of us who have been following the war on women. What it revealed? The record number of abortion restirctions passed in 2011 has meant a massive shift for women in terms of which states were supportive of reproductive rights and which were overtly “hostile:
As a result, the number of both supportive and middle-ground states shrank considerably, while the number of hostile states ballooned. In 2000, 19 states were middle-ground and only 13 were hostile. By 2011, when states enacted a record-breaking number of new abortion restrictions (see box), that picture had shifted dramatically: 26 states were hostile to abortion rights, and the number of middle-ground states had cut in half, to nine.
These states are deemed hostile if they have four or more of a combination of restrictions, including late-term bans, parental notification provisions, mandatory ultrasounds, cuts to family planning funds, restrictions on insurance both public and private, waiting periods and counseling, and Targeted Regulation of Abortion providers. The definition makes sense: stack several of these restrictions together, and you have states that are pre-Roe in essence. Imagine you're a woman of moderate means trying to get an abortion. If your insurance coverage is restricted so you have to pay out of pocket, and you have to make two trips and miss two days of work to get the procedure done, speak to a counselor and be subjected to an ultrasound, you may not be able to exercise your right at all.
The implications of this shift are enormous. In 2000, the country was almost evenly divided, with nearly a third of American women of reproductive age living in states solidly hostile to abortion rights, slightly more than a third in states supportive of abortion rights and close to a third in middle-ground states. By 2011, however, more than half of women of reproductive age lived in hostile states. This growth came largely at the expense of the states in the middle, and the women who live in them; in 2011, only one in 10 American women of reproductive age lived in a middle-ground state.
Now some of this shifting ground has to do with the fact that in these now-hostile states, Tea-Party and conservative legislatures have taken over. In other words, the sharp political divide in our country has actually had a dire effect on women's health access on the ground. And they just keep coming. Some of the proposed laws don't even fit into the Guttmacher categories due to their extreme absurdity, such as Utah's “don't say sex” bill—which would forbid mentioning sex-related topics in schools—and Kansas's “let doctors lie” bill which would protect doctors who don't tell pregnant women information that might lead to an abortion.
And mandatory ultrasound bill's like Texas's, which just went into effect, are already beginning to devastate women.
2-The assault on birth control isn't over, and some want to deny women the right to use it at all. AlterNet readers were among the many who were outraged by a new bill advancing along in Arizona that would essentially allow employers to sniff through the personal history of female employees:
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-2 Monday to endorse a controversial bill that would allow Arizona employers the right to deny health insurance coverage for contraceptives based on religious objections.
Arizona House Bill 2625, authored by Majority Whip Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, would permit employers to ask their employees for proof of medical prescription if they seek contraceptives for non-reproductive purposes, such as hormone control or acne treatment.
This provision wouldn't just intrude on women's privacy, writes Corey Robin, but open them up to blatant discrimination:
Notice the second provision of the Arizona legislation: employers will now have the right to question their employees about what they plan to do with their birth-control prescriptions. Not only is this a violation of the right to privacy — again, not a right our Constitution currently recognizes in the workplace — but it obviously can give employers the necessary information they need to fire an employee. If a women admits to using contraception in order to not get pregnant, there’s nothing in the Constitution to stop an anti-birth control employer from firing her.
Meanwhile, the Conference of Catholic Bishops, despite the PR loss that might have been occasioned by the all-male birth control panel, has duly voted to redouble their attacks on birth control — or in their words, their defense of “religious freedom.”
3-The Violence Against Women Act is under threat in the Senate. Once Joe Biden's precious piece of legislation that has been reauthorized easily over repeated years, the Violence Against Women or VAWA act has suddenly become contentious yet again this year because of new protections aimed at LGBT citizens, Native Americans, and immigrants. Even though the bill has actually had the good effect of increasing domestic violence reporting, some members of the GOP appear ready to throw women under the buss in their effort to exclude other disadvantaged groups from its helpful reach. As its primary sponsor Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont told HuffPo's Amanda Terkel, “You cannot say that we will seek to stop domestic violence, but only for certain people. It just boggles the mind. It goes against everything I ever knew as a prosecutor, but it also goes against everything I know as a human being.”
4-Abortion doctors and pregnant women are being targeted. This is one of the most disturbing but important fronts of the war on women—the criminilization of pregnant women and the targeting of abortion doctors. In Kansas, for instance, Dr. Mila Means, the doctor who wanted to open up a practice in Dr. Tiller's place has been prevented by relentless threats and harassment. In Indiana, a pregnant woman who tried to commit suicide and lost her baby has been imprisoned for over a year now.
5-We're defending ground we shouldn't be defending. When absurd bills like the ones described above in Arizona, Utah, and Kansas are defeated, it feels like a victory. But in fact, progressives are just playing defense. The right wing has always been good at pushing for the most extreme measures so that anything else seems like a compromise. Lose mandatory vaginal ultrasounds, keep mandatory abdominal ultrasounds. Lose a ban on saying sex, keep abstinence education. And as the statistics from Guttmacher show, even with a continual pushback from feminists, these laws are still coming through piece by piece, and some members of the mainstream media are following for the “religious freedom” framing that is the latest canny re-dubbing from the playbook that brought us “Right to Work” states for union-busting and “pro-life” for anti-women policies.
As Gloria Feldt told Irin Carmon at Salon this week, advocates for reproductive rights need to talk freedom, too, by advancing the “Freedom of Choice” act, a bill that would forbid discrimination against women based on their “reproductive status.” Instead of just reacting to the volley of misogyny, we need to keep advancing our own agenda of equality. The pushback against Komen, against Limbaugh, against the Blunt Amendment should just be the beginning.