Today’s WTF: The strategy behind the GOP’s “war on women”

It’s been tough to navigate the roiling seas of public debate over abortion, contraception and women’s issues lately. The media brings us reports of new legislative attacks nearly every day. They’re coming so fast and so furiously that it’s becoming difficult to keep track of them all:

  • Tennessee is considering a measure which would make the names of doctors who perform abortions available on a public database. This database would also feature demographic information about women who have had abortions, including data on the counties in which abortions were performed, which may make it easier to identify those women (particularly in smaller communities). Representative Matthew Hill, who brought the bill to the legislature, defended the measure by saying, “The Department of Health already collects all the data, but they don’t publish it. All we’re asking is that the data they already collect is made public.” And I assume he said it with a straight face, as if these are two identical concepts! The line between necessary internal data collection and inviting public intrusion and harassment is apparently a little too fine for Hill to notice.
  • Wisconsin’s legislature just had a banner week, passing a bill that would limit school sex education about pregnancy and disease protection to “abstinence only” information; another that restricts private insurance companies that will participate in the state’s insurance exchange from providing abortion coverage, even if a woman is paying for her own insurance, with her own money; and yet another that requires doctors to discuss the concept of consent and coercion with women who are seeking abortions, so that doctors can make a determination about whether or not the patient is having the procedure of her own free will. The co-sponsor of this last bill, Republican Rep. Michelle Litjens (yes, a woman, y’all!), stated that “[T]his is not about abortion…what we’re talking about here is respecting and protecting women so they have the opportunity to make the best decisions for themselves”. Sounds more like they’re trying to “protect” women from making the best decisions for themselves, but whatevs.
  • In Arizona, legislation is being advanced that would allow employers to enquire why female employees want birth control as part of their health care plan. If the employee says that they actually want to use birth control as, you know, birth control, then the employer would not have to provide it. And we’re not just talking about religious-affiliated businesses, folks. Absolutely anybody could get all up in a woman’s business, ask them about why they want/need contraception, and then refuse to provide it if they’re not personally satisfied that it’s being used in a way that doesn’t offend their morals, like treating acne or something. But wait – there’s more! Language in this bill would actually eliminate the protections that employees currently have against discrimination for using contraception. To be clear: this bill, as it is currently written, would allow for the possibility that a female employee who uses birth control – even if she obtains it on her own and not through her employer’s health care plan – could be dismissed from her job for doing so. So, an employer’s right to morally oppose contraception would apparently extend to opposing its use by their employees, even if the employer is not directly involved in providing said contraception. The zinger quote comes from the sponsor of the bill, Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko (another woman! Holy cheese!), who said on Fox News this week, “All my bill does is protect religious freedom”. After all, as she also noted, “We live in America. We don’t live in the Soviet Union.” Because firing people for using contraception is so fundamentally American, right, y’all?
  • Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas is waiting, pen in hand, for HB 2598 to reach his desk. This bill would allow physicians to withhold information from women if that information might make them more likely to have an abortion. So, if your child is born with severe physical or mental abnormalities and you want to sue the doctor for failing to warn you about this possibility, you can’t. This bill legally protects them from malpractice suits in this type of situation. And if there are any pregnancy-related health issues for the mother which the doctor chooses not to disclose, in order to prevent the possibility of the mother choosing an abortion, you can’t sue over that, either. One thing that doctors can – and, according to this bill, must – tell women is that abortion is linked to breast cancer. This is complete bullshit, of course, but since we’re already gonna let them lie by omission about any possible birth defects or health complications, then what’s the difference?
  • On the topic of the totally false abortion/breast cancer connection, New Hampshire also decided that women who want abortions must be given materials by their physicians that highlight this bogus “link”.

All this craziness happened over just the past week or so, and it is all contained in just 5 states. When you add it to the list of other places where similar things are happening – including Virginia, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida and more – it’s enough to make your head spin.

And that’s just what conservatives are hoping for.

The media often refers to this barrage of legislation as a “war on women”, a phrase which brings forth cries of righteous indignation from conservative politicians and pundits alike. They would much prefer to dismiss it as an exaggeration, a sensationalist distraction cooked up by the liberal left, to deflect attention away from the issues currently troubling the Obama administration. But make no mistake about it. The recent attempts by state governments to encroach further and further upon women’s reproductive rights are a coordinated and hostile attack, and “war” is a perfectly apt description for it. As if to underline this reality, the anti-choice movement has employed a wartime strategy that is well known to those who study military history. The war on women is, clearly, a war of attrition.

Attrition warfare, put simply, is the attempt to win a conflict by using repeated attacks which, over time, will wear your opponent down. It is utilized in situations where one big, decisive victory is not possible (or likely). The hope is that, if you continue to provoke and engage in smaller battles, the other side will run out of resources, or resolve, before you do. This strategy seems to mesh quite well with the patterns we are seeing in the Republicans’ approach recently.

Because the odds of Roe V. Wade being overturned are slim to none at the moment, the best that the GOP and its supporters can do is try to chip away at abortion rights a little at a time, saddling the process of obtaining an abortion with so many restraints and requirements that women will find it exceedingly difficult to exercise those rights. In state after state, women (and their physicians) will have to satisfy numerous conditions that can be confusing, intrusive, medically unnecessary, expensive, traumatic and humiliating in order to do something that it is still perfectly legal to do in this country.

So many states are currently in the process of restricting and limiting abortions, contraceptive access and reproductive health care. And, within several of these states, there are multiple legislative measures being considered and passed. It would be tough for the average person to be aware of all of them, unless they were going out of their way to do so. Even in cases where people are informed enough to keep track of everything that’s going on, the ability to push back against it all might be limited. This nationwide explosion of legislation is designed specifically to overwhelm those who want to defend a woman’s right to choose. As soon as we sign and forward an online petition against some extreme bill in one state, up pops a new headline about similar bills being considered in another state. We’ve just made a spirited phone call to the office of Governor X, when suddenly we find out that Governor Y is pretty heinous, too. Protesting the seemingly endless parade of unreasonable new proposals eventually becomes a nearly full-time job, and it’s one that we may be tempted to abandon as it starts to leave us wearier and more dispirited by the day.

It is precisely this outcome which is the goal of attrition warfare.

What the conservatives seem to have overlooked is a caveat about relying on this strategy. As military historians often caution, attrition warfare can easily result in what is known as a Pyrrhic victory. This occurs when one group ekes out a win over another group, but is itself damaged heavily in the process, making it nearly impossible for it to remain a dominant force. While the right may win many of these individual legislative skirmishes, the overall effect of their single-minded pursuit is definitely causing a defection of many women (and some men) from their ranks. A significant number of independents may be scared off by this crusade as well. Whether they are concerned about governmental overreach into personal matters, or they are simply disgusted at the focus on social issues at the expense of more important problems like job creation and economic growth, many voters have enough common sense to be fed up with the path that their elected officials have chosen to take. The full effects of this may be seen in November, when all the anti-choice rhetoric that politicians are doing to pander to the extremists in their base could come back to haunt them at the ballot box.

In the meantime, those who oppose these attempts to rein in and roll back women’s rights must dig in for a battle that may take a while. It does get exhausting to fight one fire while several more are popping up elsewhere. It does seem that it may never end, and that it would be easier to raise the white flag and surrender. But the last thing we want to do now is listen to Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, who advised women that “You just have to close your eyes.” He was referring to his state’s mandatory ultrasound bill, but he could easily have been discussing the war on women. To make all the crazy go away, we could just close our eyes. But unless we want to find ourselves relegated to second-class citizens with regard to our health care options and our reproductive rights, we need to keep our eyes wide open, and we need to keep fighting, no matter how long it takes.

*NOTE: For a roundup of current and pending action in the war on women, visit Team Uterati , and in particular the Ladybusiness Legislation section of their forums.  I’ve mentioned them before, but if you haven’t checked their site out yet, now would be a great time to do it. Knowledge is power, y’all!

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