policing women and privatizing care


Audio here 

March 8th 2011 is the one hundredth anniversary of International Women's Day, but American women could use more than a day to call for our rights and solidarity.

The recent wave of GOP legislative attacks on choice is summed up by Katha Pollit in the Nation:

In South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa, legislators have proposed bills that would arguably permit a pregnant woman’s mate or relatives (or maybe just anyone) to murder her abortion provider [in order to ] to protect her fetus. Although the bill was shelved in South Dakota, that state’s legislature passed (with a solid majority) a bill that would force women seeking an abortion to visit an anti-choice crisis pregnancy center and then wait seventy-two hours so the message can sink in. In Georgia… state legislator [Bobby Franklin] wants to criminalize miscarriages [requiring women to file police reports when they miscarry]—never mind that medical science knows very little about what causes miscarriage, which ends as many as one in four pregnancies, to say nothing of those precious fertilized eggbabies who are flushed out along with menstrual blood without the woman even knowing they were there. 

Devery Doleman at Tigerbeatdown and Jill Filipovic at Feministe have proposed we send Representative Franklin the evidence of our menstrual events, so he can personally investigate whether our wombs are serial killers of zygote-Americans. 

Bills restricting abortion are also under way in Pennsylvania, Kansas, Virginia, Florida, Indiana, Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio—where a “Heartbeat Bill” would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected" (about 4 days after a first missed period, & well before routine tests for common chromosomal abnormalities).

Not to be outdone by the states, Congressional Republicans are up to their own antics: [trying to redefine] rape as “forcible rape”; making it near impossible for people to buy health insurance with abortion coverage or for insurance plans to offer it; cutting the Title X Family Planning program for low-income families. Indiana’s Mike Pence managed to zero out funds for Planned Parenthood, and Pennsylvania’s Joe Pitts has proposed a bill that would allow hospitals receiving federal dollars to refuse to terminate a pregnancy even when necessary to save a woman’s life.

This would increase the already high rate of maternal mortality in the US, where more than two women die every day from complications of pregnancy and childbirth, a situation that Amnesty International last year described as not just a public health emergency but a human rights crisis, since approximately half of these deaths could be prevented if maternal health care were available, accessible and of good quality for all women in the USA. American women have a higher risk of dying of pregnancy-related complications than those in 49 other countries, including Kuwait, Bulgaria, and South Korea.

Moreover, as Pollit notes, Republicans not only don't care about women even as fetal vessels, they also seem "bent on proving the truth of the bitter joke that “prolifers” care about children only before they are born." The House Republican budget "cuts the Women, Infants and Children Health and Nutrition program by $750 million and Head Start by $1 billion. It cuts $50 million from a block grant that pays for prenatal healthcare for 2.5 million low-income women and healthcare for 31 million children each year. As Charles Blow writes in the New York Times, proposed cuts to medical research strike directly at efforts to roll back the US infant mortality rate, now the highest among advanced economies."

In response to these attacks, there have been a number of rallies, especially in support of funding Planned Parenthood and against what NARAL has called the war on contraception , or what Katie Hogue at AlterNet has called the anti-pap test, anti-mammogram, anti-fertility bill, or the pro-UTI, anti-general-healthcare bill, or, well, you get the idea— "Nothing says "sanctity of life" better than cervical cancer, breast cancer, and HIV!" In addition, Planned Parenthood has set up a web page that makes it easy to write to the offending representatives and to the senators who can still do the right thing.

Even if many of these legislative measures don't pass, they are part of a continuing push to shift the terms of debate "away from recognition of reproductive care as a social good" Moreover the attacks on women are taking other forms as well. The attacks on workers in Wisconsin and other states are, of course, also an attack on women, since 80 % of teachers, 95 % of nurses, and the majority of public sector union members are women. Bryce Covert at the Nation suggests we're looking at a "Womancession."

As Melissa Harris-Perry notes in the Nation, the right-wing project of pushing women out of the public sphere and defining women's citizenship in relation to motherhood resonates with the "ethnic and economic anxieties of conservative white Americans," who would like to see more white women giving birth to more white children, while denying birthright citizenship to the children of Latina immigrants.

As the folks at Solidarity observe:

Conservatives promote the idea that sex for pleasure without procreation is wrong. Their movement exploits and heightens anxieties about women’s sexual independence. These anxieties reflect the reality that still, in spite of important changes in how men relate to parenthood, caring for other people in our society rests on women’s shoulders. Deep down, we count on women to meet everyone’s needs for care. These fears about what women would do if we really could choose whether or not to shoulder the burden (and pleasure) of care are expressed directly in the national consensus that abortion is okay in cases of rape and incest: if a woman is “forced,” she has a right to abortion. The consensus disappears if she chooses to be heterosexually active--then, she ought to bear the punishment of an unplanned pregnancy and an unwanted birth. Unconsciously tying women’s (hetero)sexual pleasure to coerced childbearing, this narrative reassures us that women will always be available to care.

Thus, the neoconservative movement to enforce gender conformity and women's subordination dovetails with the neoliberal agenda of cutting social programs. Responsibility for care is privatized in both senses, as shared resources are withdrawn from public services and women are coerced into family roles. As the Beyond Marriage statement observes,

the Right has mounted a long-term strategic battle to dismantle all public service and benefit programs and civic values that were established beginning in the 1930s, initially as a response to widening poverty and the Great Depression. The push to privatize Social Security and many other human needs benefits, programs, and resources that serve as lifelines for many . . . is at the center of this attack. …All but the most privileged households and families are in jeopardy as a result of a wholesale right-wing assault on funding for human needs, including Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, HIV-AIDS research and treatment, public education, affordable housing, and more. [The] broader conservative agenda of coercive, patriarchal marriage promotion … plays out in … a variety of ways – all of which disproportionately impact poor, immigrant, and people-of-color communities. The purpose is not only to enforce narrow, heterosexist definitions of marriage and coerce conformity, but also to slash to the bone governmental funding for a wide array of family programs, including childcare, healthcare and reproductive services, and nutrition, and transfer responsibility for financial survival to families themselves.

In light of these developments, it is all the more important for us to recognize and build the necessary alliances among those working for the rights of women, labor, immigrants, queers, and all the rest of the overlapping groups that make up the vast majority suffering the latest onslaught of oligarchic power.

for the Old Mole Variety Hour March 7 2011



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