Viewpoint: Republicans wage war on women’s vote, reproductive rights

Karen Rubin
Karen Rubin, Viewpoint Columnist

Kathy Hochul was sworn in as New York state’s first female governor, a circumstance that arose out of her predecessor’s disgrace over charges of sexual harassment, during Women’s Equality Week, marking the 101th anniversary of women getting the right to vote. She issued a proclamation declaring Aug. 26 Women’s Equality Day.

“Fifty-six governors led New York before me and they were all men. I am honored to be the first woman to hold this office in our great state, which is the birthplace of the Women’s Rights Movement,” Gov. Hochul said. “Women around the world should follow whatever dreams they have for themselves and rest assured they can overcome any obstacle in their way.”

Hochul’s triumph is actually petty in light of the war on women’s rights underway intended to strip away any pretense of equality or recognition of women as full citizens entitled to the same right or ability of self-determination as men.

In 1848, the year of the first convention for women’s rights in Seneca Falls, N.Y., women not only could not vote, but they were considered their husband’s property as were their children; they could be raped or beaten by their husbands who would face no penalty. They could not attend college, obtain a professional license or earn their own money. Whatever property or inheritance they had became their husband’s upon marriage.

And as recently as the 1970s, before Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s historic wins for women’s rights on the Supreme Court, women could not get a business loan or a mortgage without their husband or father’s signature. Employers could discriminate at will. Sexual harassment? Didn’t exist.

And oh, yes, they could not obtain a legal abortion, even if they were raped or victims of incest, so many died or could never bear a child because of the dangerous, unsanitary, brutal procedure they were forced to endure.

And Republicans, feigning concern over how Afghan women and girls will be subjected to the Taliban’s fundamentalist Sharia Law, here in the USA work doggedly to strip women of their voting and reproductive rights, turn us into second-class non-citizens and give an embryo more rights of personhood than its mother.

As Chloe Atkins at nbcnews.com reported in a comprehensive review Texas, Idaho, Oklahoma and South Carolina have banned abortion, which can be as early as six weeks before many know they are pregnant.

But Texas goes further: the law also prohibits state officials from enforcing the ban; instead, it allows (incentivizes) anyone to sue an abortion provider or anyone who may have helped someone get an abortion after the limit and seek financial damages of up to $10,000 per defendant, as Chloe reported.

SB 8 is “blatantly unconstitutional attack on Texans’ reproductive freedom. But that’s not all — it sets up a horrifying system of vigilantism by offering a bounty to anyone who successfully sues someone for helping a pregnant person seeking abortion care after about six weeks in pregnancy,” writes Adrienne Kimmell, Acting President, NARAL Pro-Choice America.

“Make no mistake, the anti-choice politicians behind SB 8 are using this dystopian law to intimidate abortion providers and saddle them with lawsuits that could force clinics to close. Their efforts could force pregnant people to go without the care they need — or require them to travel hundreds of miles across state lines to seek that care.”

(Texas is using much the same intimidation strategy by making it a felony for anyone to even assist someone registering to vote, and once convicted of a felony in Texas, you lose your right to vote altogether.)

Arizona is banning abortions if a fetus has or is presumed to have a genetic anomaly such as Down syndrome. Providers who terminate a pregnancy because of a fetal abnormality could face a felony charge and up to two years in prison.

Arkansas outlaws all abortion procedures in the state unless the mother’s life is in danger but provides no exception for rape or incest. Anyone who provides or attempts to provide an abortion could be found guilty of a felony and face up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $100,000. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson knows the law is unconstitutional, but is daring the Supreme Court to take it up in order to effectively overturn Roe v. Wade.

“I came of age in the 1980s when women were told you could have it all. I felt so empowered,” Deirdre of New Jersey wrote the New York Times. “My daughter has come of age in a time where her ability to control her reproductive care is whittled away every day. When she graduates college, she will need to choose a state to live in, and if she chooses a Red state she will have fewer medical options. Only wealthy women will be able to fly to the states where they can receive the care they want. Women will die as they did in the past due to lack of choice. Who in their right mind would want to be a doctor in maternal health in a state where people can sue you because they think the ectopic pregnancy you ended was an abortion?”

It is beyond hypocrisy when the Republican governors who have been most aggressive in denying a woman’s right to choose – forcing government to decide a woman’s future because she does not have the mental or emotional capacity to make her own judgment – have attacked mask-wearing mandates to stem the deadly pandemic as “government overreach.” “Tyranny!” “Nazis!” As a result, more Americans will die this week in these Republican-controlled states of COVID-19 than have died in 20 years fighting in Afghanistan or who died on 9/11. Same with gun deaths which these Republican governors stoke.

Right to life? Nonsense.

Denying abortion rights, which essentially means that a woman is not capable of making her own life choices and does not deserve to control her own body or her future, is aimed at making women lesser persons, literally bound to home.

I was reminded of this at the “Engines of Change” exhibit commemorating the centennial of women’s suffrage at the Seal Cove auto museum during a trip to Bar Harbor, which showed how the bicycle and automobile were key to women securing the vote by giving women mobility, independence, geographic freedom and the ability to see beyond their own neighborhood and engage with others.

“In 1873, Harvard doctor Edward Clarke claimed that stimulating a woman’s brain would enfeeble her reproductive organs. Later, when automobiles were invented, it was a common belief that they were far too complicated for women to operate.”

The radical rightwing majority Supreme Court does not care about precedent (Roe has been law for 50 years), voting rights nor even the Constitution, for to effectively end reproductive freedom they would be ignoring the 13th Amendment (outlawing slavery and involuntary servitude, denying their right to control their labor, bodies and time, which forcing women to bear children); 14th (Equal Protection, which as with voting suppression that gives certain voters more weight to their ballot over others, gives some women rights denied others, and women fewer rights over their own self-determination than men); 15th and 19th amendments (right to vote) and the First Amendment’s separation of church and state.

Meanwhile, the systematic Republican campaign for voter suppression and election nullification effectively cuts off women’s ability to protect or reclaim their rights.

End the filibuster. Pass voting rights. Reform the Supreme Court.

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Karen Rubin

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