As early as January 6 of this year, Democrats in Congress — particularly the Democratic Women's Working Group, to which Pingree and Massachusetts congresswoman Niki Tsongas belong — began framing Republican actions as anti-women. They released an open letter to new Speaker John Boehner, calling the proposed repeal of health-care reform an attack on women, because it would allow insurance companies to continue to raise premiums on women of child-bearing age, and to deny coverage to women who, for example, have had a prior C-section.
ATTACKS FROM ALL SIDES
"Being a mother is not some kind of illness," the letter said.
The reality of health-reform repeal has been, if anything, worse than that Working Group envisioned. One version under consideration would allow any hospital that receives federal funds to refuse to terminate a pregnancy, even if the woman's life depends on it.
Another call to action went out over one of the first bills considered by the new, Republican-led House: HR3, the No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion Act, which would, among other things, specify that only "forcible" rape would serve as an exception.
Alarm bells also rang as state legislatures began considering, and in some cases passing, outrageous bills of their own. One of the most notorious, in South Dakota, sought to decriminalize the murder of abortion providers. Another, in Georgia, would make "prenatal murder"— even miscarriage — a felony, unless the woman can somehow prove there was no "human involvement."
But perhaps even more troubling to some advocates is the attempt to dismantle women's services under the guise of budget-balancing austerity.
They argue, for example, that the House Republicans' proposed cuts to the current fiscal year's budget specifically target programs for women — or, as Driscoll points out, single-parent households, which are usually headed by women. Those cuts include dramatic reductions to maternal health, prenatal care, Women and Infant Children (WIC) assistance, community health centers, Head Start, college-tuition assistance, and workforce training — all of which help more women than men.
"Who comes to public health clinics? Disproportionately women," says Eleanor Smeal, president of Feminist Majority. "When they zero in on discretionary spending, they are zeroing in on those programs serving women. This is social engineering. This is ideology."
That even extends to the high-profile labor battle in Wisconsin, where new Republican governor Scott Walker is championing legislation that would greatly reducing bargaining rights for public employees. As the Wisconsin NOW chapter points out, the bill exempts the most male-dominated professions — firefighters, police, and state troopers — while including the predominately female ranks of teachers, nurses, social workers, and home-care providers.
In fact, there are so many state-level bills and budget-cutting proposals with potential harmful attacks on women, it's hard for activists to identify them all, let alone draw public attention to them. Brian Namey, communications director for the National Network to End Violence, points to a bill in Arizona, intended to deny state-funded services to illegal immigrants, as an example. As currently written, it would require domestic-violence shelters to turn away women who can't immediately provide proof of residency — in fact, it would require those shelters to immediately report anyone who showed up without such documentation. If the bill becomes law, Namey says, women in dire straits — including legal residents — will literally be turned away from their only refuge, while immigrant women will be afraid to seek help at all.