Republicans' Tireless War on Women

The Republican war on women is one of attrition, and women are losing.

After yesterday's overwhelming House vote restricting federal funding for abortion, there will be no policy change, fortunately. If the Senate even takes up the bill, they won't pass it. And if they did, by some miracle, pass that bill, President Barack Obama has already promised to veto the draconian law.

Republicans did not lose the battle by failing to change federal policy, however. They demonstrated their strength on a unifying issue, not only voting unanimously for the bill but also pulling five Democrats over the aisle for a 251-175 vote that loudly and clearly makes this point: When the day comes for simultaneous Republican leadership of the Senate, House, and White House, among the first victims will be women.

It's not just on Capitol Hill where Republicans are launching assaults in their war on women. Battles are breaking out in state legislatures across the country. "Nearly 1,000 anti-choice bills are advancing through Republican-controlled state houses nationwide," Tanya Somanader reported here this afternoon. "Several states are racing to be the first state to defund Planned Parenthood, with Indiana taking the lead. In doing so, states like Indiana, Alaska, and Texas are willingly gutting other programs that help low-income women and children, chocking it up to collateral damage." As I've previously written over at the Prospect's group blog, anti-choicers are tireless zealots for their cause. Every defeat they absorb is only viewed as a temporary setback and an invitation to reassemble their forces at a later date.

There was once a time when our democracy's constitutional guardians, the Supreme Court, could be counted upon to defend a woman's right to make her own, often very difficult, medical decisions. When Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, the Court recognized that the constitutional guarantee of privacy extended to women's wombs. As Scott Lemieux smartly argues, a very different Supreme Court effectively replaced Roe with a much weaker framework for protecting reproductive rights in 1992. Under that framework, the justices have apparently sought every opportunity to erode those rights since.

It is no coincidence that Republican legislators present a unified front on abortion while the Supreme Court has increasingly fallen into the hands of anti-choice jurists. While advocates for women's rights are passionate, smart, and hardworking, it's an open secret that the movement is prone to infighting -- a symptom of ego with detrimental results for resource-allocation and, ultimately, results.

I digress, though, and I tiptoe uncomfortably close to the line that too many others have crossed, past which stones are thrown. Women's rights advocates admirably serve the interests of liberty and justice, and leaders in that community only deserve a sliver of the blame for the failure to out-organize and out-message the anti-choice community.

A more significant reason that Republicans are so successfully waging their war on women is the anti-choice community's victories framing the debate over reproductive rights. Women's rights advocates are on defense; victory is a stalemate. Anti-choicers, on the other hand, are almost exclusively responsible for what battles are fought, and they are selectively stripping away women's reproductive rights. This might be overcome by more effective messaging that puts the anti-choice community on defense for, say, the especially inhumane members of that community. Anti-choicers should be forced to explain how their movement breeds those who would redefine rape, endanger women's health, and murder the doctors who admirably serve women against their own self-interest. I'd like to know why the political movement that produced seven politically motivated assassinations of innocent people during the Clinton years alone is embraced by a major political party in our country, wouldn't you?

Of course, you can't paint anti-choicers with too broad a brush. There are principled people among them committed to nonviolence. So let's give them an opportunity to make their voices heard by distinguishing themselves from the more murderous elements within their community who have at least the tacit support of major organizations within the movement, such as Operation Rescue.

The alternative to playing offense has generally failed. Abortion rights remain the law of the land, but only marginally. America is one disastrous election from returning to the days before Roe. This is not hyperbole so much as a sober assessment of the battlefield -- one on which women's rights advocates have played defense for too long.