Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The WAR (TM) On Women

Yeah, Someone Did Actually Say That ...
Previously I looked at Obama's WAR on Religion. Now I want to look at the GOP's WAR on Women. Is there one? Who declared it? What the heck does that mean anyway?

How would I know? Well, Google knows everything so I googled War On Women and checked out the top-ten links or so.

Exhibit A: Access to Abortion 
The number one issue at stake in The War On Women is access to legal abortions. If you are on the left any restriction is an Act of War(!). If you are on the Right, it's defense of the innocent unborn. This issue has been around for a while and I'm not about to propose an answer here. There are three things I want to note:

1. Support for Legal Abortion has Fallen.
Trend: With Respect to the Abortion Issue, Would You Consider Yourself to Be Pro-Choice or Pro-Life?

Gallup shows that the Pro-Choice faction has declined since '96 and the Pro-Life has made gains.

2. Not All Abortion is Equal
A second graph here:
Trend: Should Abortions Be Legal Under Any Circumstances, Legal Only Under Certain Circumstances, or Illegal in All Circumstances?
Shows indicates (to me) that the issue may be around certain conditions. For example, from the links, about 70% of respondents think abortion should be legal in the case of rape or incest--more if the life of the woman is in danger. I didn't find stats--but I'm pretty sure that, for example, 3rd Trimester abortions receive substantially less support.

3. Women As a Demographic Seem To Favor Abortion Access (To a Degree) More Than Men
The second thing (from Pew) is that women, especially of child-bearing age, favor abortions more than men--although the raw numbers have declined.

My third observation is that there are some current abortion laws that can have pretty dramatic impacts:
Halfway through my pregnancy, I learned that my baby was ill. Profoundly so. My doctor gave us the news kindly, but still, my husband and I weren’t prepared. Just a few minutes earlier, we’d been smiling giddily at fellow expectant parents as we waited for the doctor to see us. In a sonography room smelling faintly of lemongrass, I’d just had gel rubbed on my stomach, just seen blots on the screen become tiny hands. For a brief, exultant moment, we’d seen our son—a brother for our 2-year-old girl.
“I don’t want to have to do this at all,” I told her. “I’m doing this to prevent my baby’s suffering. I don’t want another sonogram when I’ve already had two today. I don’t wantto hear a description of the life I’m about to end. Please,” I said, “I can’t take any more pain.” I confess that I don’t know why I said that. I knew it was fait accompli. The counselor could no more change the government requirement than I could. Yet here was a superfluous layer of torment piled upon an already horrific day, and I wanted this woman to know it.
 “We have no choice but to comply with the law,” she said, adding that these requirements were not what Planned Parenthood would choose. Then, with a warmth that belied the materials in her hand, she took me through the rules. First, she told me about my rights regarding child support and adoption. Then she gave me information about the state inspection of the clinic. She offered me a pamphlet called A Woman’s Right to Know, saying that it described my baby’s development as well as how the abortion procedure works. She gave me a list of agencies that offer free sonograms, and which, by law, have no affiliation with abortion providers. Finally, after having me sign reams of paper, she led me to the doctor who’d perform the sonography, and later the termination.
 The doctor and nurse were professional and kind, and it was clear that they understood our sorrow. They too apologized for what they had to do next. For the third time that day, I exposed my stomach to an ultrasound machine, and we saw images of our sick child forming in blurred outlines on the screen.
 “I’m so sorry that I have to do this,” the doctor told us, “but if I don’t, I can lose my license.” Before he could even start to describe our baby, I began to sob until I could barely breathe. Somewhere, a nurse cranked up the volume on a radio, allowing the inane pronouncements of a DJ to dull the doctor’s voice. Still, despite the noise, I heard him. His unwelcome words echoed off sterile walls while I, trapped on a bed, my feet in stirrups, twisted away from his voice.
 “Here I see a well-developed diaphragm and here I see four healthy chambers of the heart...”
I closed my eyes and waited for it to end, as one waits for the car to stop rolling at the end of a terrible accident.
I want to note that it turns out that in her condition she might not have been required to go through that--but not the 24 hour waiting period. And the exemption advice was given several days after her experience--so unless the doctor was willing to play bumper-cars with his license she was probably going to get that regardless. Finally: we might assume that the people who put forth the law draw the line at severely disable children--but, at least as of 2003, about 50% of respondents didn't believe in that exemption either.

I think the safest thing to assume is that (a) the exemption is a compromise position and (b) the architects of the law have about a 50% of having intended exactly what she went through.

Conclusion: While I'll leave it up to the reader as to whether restriction of access to abortion is a "war on women" I will note the following:
  1. Women themselves, as a demographic trend more towards access than restriction. Where restriction is favored it is much more strongly on the conditional end of the axis rather than complete restriction.
  2. The position of the Republican Party is towards more restriction: the base favors the most restrictive position. The most extreme position (illegal in all cases) is held by Rick Santorum (as well as, for example, Sarah Palin) and the other candidates allow it to be a state decision (which is the safe ground) while being against it. Romney thinks abortion should be legal in the case of rape or incest.
  3. Whether or not there is WAR involved here, these decisions, as illustrated above, can, at least in some--or the most extreme cases--serve to compound trauma on women as an intended result (if you believe otherwise, again, consider that while the exemption appears, statistically, to be a compromise measure).
Exhibit B: Rush Limbaugh
This is played out--but I'm going to address it here shortly. Rush Limbaugh has a particularly unique position in that he is not only a shock-jock radio entertainer personality--but also seen as the main person who speaks for the Republican Party

When he called Fluke a slut and a prostitute he was just shooting his mouth off--but so would Reince Priebus be if he said that stuff and he's the head of the Republican National Committee. Just as we expect Reince to be judicious about what he says--as it will rightly reflect on the RNC and the Republicans it is at least reasonable to hold Rush to a similar standard (but not the same one: Rush is an entertainer first and foremost).

So I will say this: if there is a line that Reince better not cross (when Michael Steele said critical things about the GOP when he was the head of the RNC he was, rightly, admonished by the base) there is also a line somewhere for Rush. It's much higher (Reince has no other job than presenting the RNC with poise and grace)--but it is still there.

Was what Rush said over that line? Well, he apologized for it--so he thought he was.

Did what he said hurt all women? Or just Sandra Fluke? I don't have an objective answer to this--but I'll say what I think. I think that the use of the term slut and calling her a prostitute (when she is clearly not) when testifying before a House committee on the topic of contraception makes her more than just one college girl somewhere who had bad words said to her. He essentially used gendered insults against political speech. This is different than just being personal or offensive ("She's a bitch"). I suspect that women--as a demographic--do not like powerful men calling people sluts or prostitutes because they know that once that starts getting thrown around it does, in fact, hurt all of them--to a degree. That's my take-away (although I know from reading comments there are several women who find her behavior wrong--I did not see any defending 'slut' and 'prostitute'--although I did see some men doing so). 

Conclusion: Rush is, like it or not (whether he likes it or not), a major voice in the Republican party. What he said was, I think, over the line. Act of War? I'm going to say ... yes. So far as it goes. But keep in mind that accepted or not (and well constructed or not) he did apologize.

Exhibit C: The Rest of the WAR!
But the Abortion issue is only the tip of the iceberg. There's a whole laundry list of stuff that I'll look at in a minute. But first, let's examine our terms:

Connect The Dots Sucks
You'll see me refer to/deride "connect the dots" arguments. These are arguments that put up a list of facts (or 'facts') and then ask the reader to "Connect the dots" for it all to make sense--like a picture emerging from one of those puzzles on the back of children's menus. I find this approach implicitly disingenuous. Any time someone is making a connect-the-dots argument I'm at best suspicious. When they turn out to be willlfully misleading about a dot? They're dishonest.

What Is WAR!?
In order for there to be a "Republican" WAR on Women (or a Democratic one) there has to be:
  1. Coordinated and orchestrated intent behind the behavior and it has to come from the top down or at least the top echelon. A staffer sending a naughty email doesn't count as WAR. Some junior congressman somewhere proposing a bill that reads badly isn't WAR either. People will be stupid: Film at 11.
  2. Failure To Police Your Own isn't WAR. Yes, it's bad behavior--but Romney failing to upbraid Rush Limbaugh, whether or not Romney is Owned By Clear Channel, is not WAR. It's not Romney or anyone else's job to shout down Rush (and good luck with that anyway) and while 'Silence Means Consent' may be a nifty slogan it isn't, actually, consent. 
  3. Hypocrisy is not WAR. It's possible for both sides to be engaged in bad behavior at the same time. Just because some other guy did it doesn't excuse you doing it.
What is Damage To Women?
One would expect a war (or a WAR) on Women to damage them in some way. How would I track that? Well, the first way I'll try is by polling: if, indeed, the women-demographic is going one way or the other, that's a sign (note: as of writing this, I haven't checked yet so I don't know what I can find).

But secondly, I'm going to punt. Not being a woman--nor having access to one that can speak for all women (although online there is no shortage of people of all genders trying) I'm going to say this: I will tell you if I think the charge or argument is true or not--and honestly presented.

I will tell you if I think the issue at stake is just a random actor behaving badly--or a policy decision.

And you can decide. It's like Fox News, right?

So Let's Look. Here are the links ...
WAR From The Right!
Looking at Stop The War On Women we find this list of infractions:
1) Republicans not only want to reduce women's access to abortion care, they're actually trying to redefine rape. After a major backlash, they promised to stop. But they haven't yet. Shocker.
2) A state legislator in Georgia wants to change the legal term for victims of rape, stalking, and domestic violence to "accuser." But victims of other less gendered crimes, like burglary, would remain "victims."
3) In South Dakota, Republicans proposed a bill that could make it legal to murder a doctor who provides abortion care. (Yep, for real.)
4) Republicans want to cut nearly a billion dollars of food and other aid to low-income pregnant women, mothers, babies, and kids.
5) In Congress, Republicans have a bill that would let hospitals allow a woman to die rather than perform an abortion necessary to save her life.
6) Maryland Republicans ended all county money for a low-income kids' preschool program. Why? No need, they said. Women should really be home with the kids, not out working.
7) And at the federal level, Republicans want to cut that same program, Head Start, by $1 billion. That means over 200,000 kids could lose their spots in preschool.
8) Two-thirds of the elderly poor are women, and Republicans are taking aim at them too. A spending bill would cut funding for employment services, meals, and housing for senior citizens.
9) Congress just voted for a Republican amendment to cut all federal funding from Planned Parenthood health centers, one of the most trusted providers of basic health care and family planning in our country.
10) And if that wasn't enough, Republicans are pushing to eliminate all funds for the only federal family planning program. (For humans. But Republican Dan Burton has a bill to provide contraception for wild horses. You can't make this stuff up).
1. Forcible Rape vs. Rape
The first issue hinges (and the article links to Left-Wing on the inclusion of the term 'forcible' before the term 'Rape' in bill H.R. 358. The goal, it seems, is to distinguish between ... erm ... rape-rape (to use a pretty bad term itself) and, erm, date rape? It's to "prevent the opening of a very broad loophole for fedreally funded abortions for any teenager," said Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

While I am on the pro-choice side of the line, I think that what most people think of as rape is, in fact, 'forcible'--assuming you include coercion and abuse of authority as force (which any good libertarian ought to, eh?). If you assume this is limiting rape to physical force then, yes--it's redefining. If you assume it is excluding the more loosely defined aspects such as statutory rape then it is not. I don't know how 'forcibly' would be interpreted in a court of law so there's some gray area. On the other hand, it has 150 Republican signatures so it does count as coordinated / orchestrated.

Conclusion: I'm dubious that this is presented in the most honest fashion possible. 

2. Changing Victim to Accuser
The link is to the Huffington Post the change this guy is spending tax-payer dollars on looks like this:

This is stupid. Yes, there's a (completely toxic and delusional) Men's Rights argument around how women, wholesale, destroy men's lives with false accusations of rape. Even if you buy it (in which case you are an idiot--yes, that can happen, no, it is not a problem that approximates that of, you know, actual rape) this does nothing to help with that. It's just grand-standing on the body of every raped woman who has considered not coming forward because she wouldn't be believed.

What this lacks, though, is, as far as I can tell, support. Yes, Bobby Franklin wasn't shouted down--but I don't (see above) require that. So far as I can tell he's an idiot, doing his idiot thing--and that's it. So far.

Conclusion: Yes, it's stupidity--but it lacks the orchestration and support necessary for WAR.

3. Making It Legal To Murder A Doctor!?
From Mother Jones: the bill makes killing someone trying to harm a fetus a self-defense act. True--but according to the sponsor (who is a foe of abortion rights--but still ...):
Jensen spoke to Mother Jones on Tuesday morning, after this story was published. He says that he disagrees with this interpretation of the bill. "This simply is to bring consistency to South Dakota statute as it relates to justifiable homicide," said Jensen in an interview, repeating an argument he made in the committee hearing on the bill last week. "If you look at the code, these codes are dealing with illegal acts. Now, abortion is a legal act. So this has got nothing to do with abortion."
While a misunderstanding of it might encourage someone to kill abortion doctors, the pithy one-liner from StopTheWarOnWomen doesn't paint a remotely accurate picture here. It's also lacking national support--although in North Dakota it passed 9-3 (and is now so amended I'm not clear where it stands).

Conclusion: Misleading. Not War.

4. Republicans Want To Cut Funds ...
Yes. This is news? They also want (same article) to cut funds to NASA and AmTrak. The War on Trains?

Conclusion: It has the national scale and orchestration but ... They're cutting the IRS too. War on Taxes--hey, that actually fits. No. This is not specifically a war on women. It's just a war on funding--low income women will be hit in the crossfire.

5. Let Women Die--Rather than Have An Abortion?
Well, yes--it does not force religious hospitals to provide even life-saving abortions. And it does not mandate the patient be transferred: they could do nothing. Would that happen? Yeah: it could. I know of cases where women have not been advised on abortion where it could / would kill the mother because of personal beliefs. Not common--but yeah. Possible. Also: it passed the House: that's sufficient top-down support for my criteria.

Conclusion: If you think that restricting abortion--in the case of the life of the mother--is warish? This counts.

6. Maryland Republicans Cut Low Income School Program Saying Women Should Be Home With Kids--Not Working
Did they do that / say that? Yes: to a degree, anyway. The vote was 4-1 and pulled 2.3MM from the Head Start program. They gave it to the 2012 fiscal budget (440MM, for comparison). Two of the guys doing the pulling said this:
"As many of you know, I had a lot of kids and my wife stayed home at a significant sacrifice in those early years, because she knew she had to be with those kids," said Smith, who is the parent of 12 children. "I know everybody isn't able to survive doing that, but clearly if we can strengthen marriage, we can decrease the number of children we have to reach."
And then, erm, clarified:
"I'd just like to say that I have four kids that graduated from Frederick County Public Schools," he said. "My wife is college educated and could go out and get a very good job. She gave that up for 18 years, so she could stay home with our kids and we gave up a lot to do that. I agree with Commissioner Smith. The marriage thing is very important."
Delauter told the parents that they should not rely on the government to educate their kids.
"I never relied on anyone else to guarantee the education of my kids," he said. "My wife and I are the ultimate decision makers on the education of our kids."
This is rock-bottom stupid--Head Start programs help kids who won't get enrichment any other way. And their mothers have to work. However, this event lacks national coordination and orchestration. If you want to talk about Frederick County's WAR on Women ... call me.

Conclusion: Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Not WAR on Women (not national Republican, anyway)

7. But Then Republicans Do Cut Head Start On a National Level!
This article argues that the pains caused by broad budget cuts the article is talking about are born disproportionately by women. It seems that these are in the context of larger budget cuts--but I'm going to give them this one (although I am not sure the argument is correct). Women do bear disproportionate responsibility for raising kids and so on. If I didn't give credit for a local event I think I will for the national-level case.

Conclusion: Yes--this targets women (specifically low income women--but they are more vulnerable)

8. Cut Funding for Employment, Meals, Services, for Senior Citizens ... and 2/3rds of the elderly poor are women.
Visions of starving seniors are ugly--but this is more about a War on Seniors than Women.

Conclusion: Weak for a WAR on Women.

9. Stripping Planned Parenthood of Funding?
It's not news that the GOP doesn't like Planned Parenthood.This passed the House. It wouldn't (likely) pass the Senate. That said:

I'm going to say that this is more or less a strike on women's health issues. STI/STD testing and Contraception--not to mention Cancer Screening are all fairly uncontroversial. If the graph is true (and I think it is) then this is firing a shotgun at women's issues trying to hit abortion.

Conclusion: Top-down, anti-women? Yeah ... WAR.

10. Eliminate all Funds for Federal Family Planning
This seems to be the Title X cut again. The link compares this to a bill to provide contraception for wild horses ... funny--but certainly not un-biased.

Conclusion: War-ish. National and seems to impact women's health issues. Especially since it's around contraception more than specifically abortion.

Final Score: 3 out of 10.

WAR From The Left
Those are the charges. What about the counter-charges? Here we have Obama's War On Women:
This focuses on Bill Maher's misogynistic comments and the lack of Democratic response. It also makes some general assertions about Obama sidelining women--without much by way of back-up. The Hot Air article also notes the hypocrisy of Republicans getting Lim-bashed while Maher gets off scott free.

While I don't deny the level of outrage isn't equivalent I also don't find the speaker equivalent.

Conclusion: This is thinly constructed. I've rules out bashing Romney for not hitting Limbaugh so I have to rule out Obama for not hitting Maher. That said, yes: the media should be making sure we know about both and Limbaugh is much bigger news (although to be sure, between the two--on any scale--Limbaugh is much bigger news).

What Do The Polls Say?
If this article is true, the GOP is losing women:
Both sides have tried to shape the narrative in this battle for and about women. But many Republicans are beginning to wish they had never waded into what has become a heated conversation over contraception, who should have it and what it says about people who use it.
GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s campaign, said Republicans need to return to pocketbook and fiscal issues. “We know what works,” she said, “and we need to get back to it.”
On the other hand, Commentary Magazine doesn't think so:
Fortunately, there have been actual polls conducted on whether women have become disenchanted with the Republican candidates. Today’s Washington Post/ABC poll found “no measurable effect at this point” showing that women are moving toward the Democratic Party. In fact, President Obama actually appears to have lost ground with women in a general election matchup against Mitt Romney
But NPR (National Pravda Radio--I know, I know) says this:
"Republicans are not hostile toward contraception," says conservative pollster Kristen Soltis. "The real issue is what employers should be required to do, and what should government pay for."
"There are real arguments about the role and size of government, and the employer/employee relationship that can be very favorable to Republicans," Soltis says. "Unfortunately, the conversation has gone to birth control and value judgments about people who use birth control."
So who knows?

What Do I Think?
I think this took longer than I freakin' planned for. Here's what I think: I find the trans-vaginal ultra-sound stuff to be abusive and specifically humiliating for women. Not being a woman myself--nor facing an abortion--I have a hard time imagining that "happening to me" but I know I wouldn't like it. And I feel for the woman in the linked article who was doubly traumatized by the law (even if she should've been exempt, I still find that to be a compromise to what the GOP's right-flank would want).

I find Limbaugh a national GOP figure--and Bill Maher an HBO comedian. Both should be repudiated for their statements--but Bill's do not reflect on the party itself. Rush's do. Because of who he is--and denying that seems like denying reality.

The WarOnWomen site is fairly weak though: there are a few things in there--but like most connect-the-dots arguments it's a mix of local stuff that's stupid and miss-characterizations of things that are more nuanced. Since I presume "That is the best they've got" it's a bit weak.

On the other side I'm even more underwhelmed. Maher is, again, a talking point--but it's at odds with who, exactly he and Limbaugh are. If the Democrats are being opportunistic? So is this--it's trying to use a minor issue to frame a major one and leaving out key facts (such as that Limbaugh commands fear from everyone in the GOP and Maher doesn't command fear from anyone in the Democrats--although his money is green).

So is there a WAR on Women from the Republicans? It mostly comes down to the abortion and contraception question: if you find restriction to abortion to harm women? If you find easy access to contraception to be something the government ought to help provide women with? Then, yeah--the GOP is at WAR with Women.

But you've gotta be clear about where exactly you stand.


  1. Two other noteworthy War on Women skirmishes, both (perhaps unsurprisingly) from Arizona:

    A proposed law granting employers the right to ask women for proof that contraceptives are being taken for non-contraceptive reasons and, thus, potentially giving employers the right to fire women for using birth control.

    A “wrongful birth” bill that would prevent doctors from being sued for not informing a pregnant woman of prenatal problems because such information could lead to an abortion.

  2. Interesting links. As I worked my way through this, I asked myself if there -was- a preponderance-of-the-evidence issue: are enough local events (Arizona, this one county somewhere, etc.) to add up to national/coordinated WAR?

    I don't think so. I think that so long as those are Arizona specific you could, maybe, say the Arizona GOP is declaring WAR on Women--but if you're a Democrat do you want to be responsible for everything some Democratic group does -anywhere-?

    On the other hand, with the Contraception issue there -is- an underlying organizational structure: the Catholic church. With Abortion issue the entire multi-denominational Right-to-Life structure. So that -is- top down and organized.

    And the Base is almost isomorphic to the right-to-life guys (and therefore the party is beholden to them). So, yeah: maybe. I could see those counting.

    Just keep in mind, though that this has to be -stated goals-: if getting fired for using contraception is just a worst-case-scenario instead of the intent it may not count as WAR.

  3. Perhaps, a local WAR, but national? I’m inclined to say “no” (or maybe “not yet” –– Arizona pioneered anti-illegal-immigrant, anti-abortion, voter ID, and redistricting legislation whose outlines were then copied elsewhere).

    I’d argue that there’s a difference between what the Arizona GOP is doing and what “some Democratic group” might do. This isn’t just some GOP advocacy group, it’s the GOP-controlled state legislature that’s proposing these bills (or, in the case of the wrongful-birth bill, passed in the Arizona Senate).

    (Granted, I still wouldn’t want to be held responsible for some loopy legislation that a random Democratic-controlled state legislature might propose, but I still would be deeply annoyed at them and hold them responsible for “tarnishing the brand”.)

    The curious fact that the proposed law allows employers to determine whether or not a woman is using contraceptives as a contraceptive but doesn’t give employers the same right to, for instance, determine whether a bachelor is using Viagra for anything but non-enhancement purposes strikes me as egregiously female-unfriendly (especially since a prohibition from employers discriminating against women who purchase their own contraception without employer health coverage was removed from the bill).

  4. Also worth noting: the fun and games currently surrounding the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act.