Last night I dreamt of being cloaked and shuffling around in a black burka. This burka covered my eyes and prevented me from seeing anything outside my line of sight. I remember the feeling of being suffocated and restricted as I fought the cloth around me. Fortunately, I awoke in my nice suburban bed, stretched my unencumbered limbs and questioned the genesis of my dream.
Then I remembered the newly proposed law in Arizona that would permit a woman’s employer to ask for proof of a medical prescription if the woman claimed to need contraception coverage for non-reproductive reasons. Somehow the sponsor, Majority Whip Debbie Lasko (R-Glendale), sees this as a First amendment right of religious freedom. Once again the twisted logic of the right of “conscience” to opt out of providing birth control is rearing its illogical and ugly head. No one who objects to birth control has to use it, but that is not the point. The point is the promotion of a religious belief that is against birth control for any woman in our democracy. What about the religious freedom of a woman who believes that she does not want to have a child? What about the invasion into a woman’s private medical history? The First Amendment protects religious freedom, but is also provides freedom from religion. And further insult is that according to Arizona’s employer at will laws, a woman could be summarily fired if her boss is unhappy with her decision to take birth control pills that are covered by his employer-provided insurance.
I also thought of Texas, where Governor Perry’s avowed antipathy toward Planned Parenthood has made him reject federal funds for both Planned Parenthood clinics and clinics who are associated with them. Because of this, thousands of lower-income families will go without health care as of the end of April. Starting this week, the federal government is withholding funding to a Texas Medicaid program specifically for women’s health because Planned Parenthood was excluded by the state legislature from receiving any funds. Once again women’s health care is being subjected to the arbitrary will of religious conservatives.
How far can we be from a burka-society when women’s health care is being dismantled state by state, law by law? We decry the treatment of women in other countries. But are we looking to our own country? Do we as a nation even understand the threat, the potential outcome – women as second class citizens with no legal standing and no rights?
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Frankly, as a woman who thought that Roe v. Wade was the settled law of the land and that women had gained the right to control their own bodies, I am furious. This fight, this right was settled. And now it is back in full force. While women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are pursuing careers and/or raising families, the rights that their mothers and grandmothers fought for are being legislated away. Their right to control their own health is on the line. While women in their 60s and 70s who thought that they could sit back, read novels and savor their efforts are seeing the rights that they gained are disappearing.
At JAC we have been on the front lines to advocate for the rights of women. We have worked for years to ensure that these rights remain and to support those who support our rights. Recently, we have joined coalitions with other groups dedicated to working together to stop this assault on women and women’s health. Working together we have an even greater voice.
This week The Coalition to Protect Women’s Health Care is sending videos that ordinary citizens have made to show how the Patient and Affordable Health Care Act has helped them and their families. We encourage our members to submit videos of their own as part of this effort. By joining forces we are more powerful. By working together, we have a greater voice. But the only way to help all women throw off the burkas, both figuratively and literally, is to speak out, act, and vote.
The election in November is critical – get out and vote for candidates who will defeat these bills. Together we must continue to fight for our basic fundamental rights and chase the monsters from our bedrooms for once and for all.
Gail Yamner, President