The Virginia Legislature was poised to pass, and Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell to sign, a bill requiring a vaginally invasive medical procedure be performed on any woman seeking an abortion — until a massive demonstration of female voting power caused them to “modify” it, very slightly. In the U.S. Congress, Republican Rep. Darrell Issa called to order a hearing on women’s health care, but only men were invited to testify. A female law school student, Sandra Fluke, whom the Democrats had invited to appear before this committee, was ruled by Issa not to be “a competent witness” and so was disqualified.
The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops, objecting to the fact that Catholic hospitals and universities were required under the new health care law to provide contraceptive care for their female employees, called for and received a compromise from the president. This compromise moved the cost of that offending aspect of health-care coverage from the church-affiliated institutions to the healthcare companies themselves, forcing them to provide this service at no cost to the insured. It was a reasonable solution. Not willing, however, to have this emotional issue taken away from them so quickly, the misogynist wing of American politics, supported by the Catholic bishops, introduced the Blount-Rubio bill in the Senate: Any company that had moral objections could opt out of this coverage. That is, mostly male bosses could tell female employees what kind of health care women were allowed to have. The sickness in this country was revealed when this outrageous bill was defeated by only three votes.
Is this a debate about religious liberty and keeping the government from violating religious freedom, as the political right suggests? I don’t think so. It is rather a manifestation of a concentrated and sometimes violent attack on women’s rights, especially their right to privacy. First, for some time, these same health-care regulations required by states have been in force across this nation with no outcry from anyone. Second, the abortion debate, always emotional, has now revealed itself to be equally opposed to birth control, an issue not debated in this country for almost half a century! Freedom from unexpected pregnancies has been the major factor in opening career opportunities for women in business, politics and religion. There is now ample evidence that this new equality of opportunity is resented by a significant number of males. This is the counterattack.
The hostility unleashed in these attacks reveals its virulence. Recall that when Anita Hill challenged then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas’ fitness for the court appointment, the response of the defense was to attack Hill’s veracity and morality, leaving her reputation in shreds. The same thing happened to the women who accused Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain of sexual improprieties. When the aforementioned Sandra Fluke was finally allowed to testify, she was called a “slut” and a “prostitute” by Rush Limbaugh, a four-times-married, right-wing radio talk show host, whose Viagra, I note, is covered by his health insurance. The pattern is consistent.
For centuries, women have struggled against male power and male-imposed definitions that were written into law to keep women in servile, second-class status. The prayer book of the Episcopal Church until 1928 required the woman to take a vow of obedience to her husband at the time of her marriage. The only birth control a woman was allowed until relatively recently was abstinence, which did not appear to be desirable to men. Wives encouraged both mistresses and prostitutes, to minimize the number of children they would be forced to bear. There are many other factors in this equation. It was not until 1724, for example, that Western science discovered that women have an egg cell and thus are equal co-creators of every life that has ever been born. This fact challenged the prevailing male “wisdom” that the woman’s only function in procreation was the secondary role of nurturing the male seed into maturity. Then there are the fears that express themselves in the taboos developed against a woman’s menstrual flow. Here were women who bled regularly and who did not die. Males clearly envied that power, while seeking to protect themselves from it. Whatever the source of this male fear of women, it is time to stop seeking to mandate politically that women’s bodies be subject to male control, whether that control be exercised by their husbands, their bosses, the members of the U.S. Senate — and perhaps above all by the misogynist, all-male hierarchies of medieval religious organizations.
I find it frightening that we are having this discussion in 2012! Every Roman Catholic university, hospital and charitable organization receives massive federal funding from taxpayer money. America’s taxpayers make it financially possible for Catholic institutions to do the good work they do. Does this church then have the right to take this money and to impose its values on its employees? Is the current debate the last gasp of a dying patriarchy or the opening debate in a new dark age?
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