Commentary Abortion

Conservatives’ Deep-Set Fear of Women’s Rights

Amanda Marcotte

When Gov. Phil Bryant claimed to believe that liberals just love abortion for its own sake, he was clearly lying. But that doesn't mean we can't understand what he's really stabbing at, which is a deep-set fear of female independence. 

There’s a tendency among prominent anti-choicers to speak elliptically of their beliefs, knowing that straightforward statements of hostility to sex and women’s rights tend to run ordinary people off. But occasionally one of them gets a little slack and ends up saying to the public at large the sort of things they usually try to say only to each other. That’s how Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant ended up saying on the radio recently, “[T]he true hypocrisy is that [liberals’] one mission in life is to abort children, is to kill children in the womb.” 

This is like saying that the only reason policymakers and public health professionals want to ensure access to emergency rooms to treat victims of accidents and traumatic health events is because they like people to become victims of accidents and traumatic health events.

The question that comes to mind for the non-idiotic when contemplating a statement like Bryant’s is, “Does he really believe that garbage? Does he really think that abortion is some amazingly pleasurable experience that pro-choicers do for no other reason than to do it?” I’m going to go out on a limb and say no, that Bryant is lying here about what he thinks pro-choicers believe. The reason I can say that with some assurance is that everything else in his entire rant was a lie. Bryant made this statement in the middle of an extended claim that new and pointless restrictions on abortion in Mississippi are about protecting women’s health. Literally no one actually believes this. Both anti and pro-choicers know that the new restrictions are about shutting down abortion access in Mississippi, which actual experts in women’s health routinely point out is bad for women. Since every other word in Bryant’s speech was a lie, it’s safe to say that his claim to believe that pro-choicers are all about “abortion parties” is also a lie. Pure B.S. is the lingua franca of the anti-choice movement.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn anything from this sort of right wing fantasizing. While Bryant doesn’t literally believe that pro-choicers want to abort every pregnancy, I do think this statement reveals the utter terror and hatred of feminism, particularly of feminist demands for women’s sexual liberation, that is at the heart of the anti-choice movement. Knowing that “abort/kill children” is hysterical anti-choice code for “have sex on your own terms without apology” helps translate Bryant’s nonsensical rant to one that actually makes sense and gets to the heart of what he’s actually saying. It is, in fact, true, that most progressives want to make sure that every woman can have sex on their own terms without apology. 

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That shouldn’t seem so terrifying to conservatives, but it clearly is. It has been terrifying to conservative forces throughout history and across cultures, so there’s no real reason to be surprised or skeptical that we have that problem in the United States. By ensuring access to safe, legal abortion, the government ensures women have a right to sex without facing unwanted consequences. That kind of validation of women’s right to be free, independent human beings is and always has been what this war is over, which is why anti-choicers have to create this elaborate code language to talk about their views. In this country in 2012, it’s just politically unfeasible to state outright that you think it’s better to keep the patriarchal boot on women’s necks.

This is why I doubt that Republican Party leaders are going to be able to put a lid on the overflow of misogyny we’ve been witnessing for the past couple of years now know as the War on Women. It’s hard to say in the short term why these past couple of years have seemed like the breaking point for reactionaries, causing them to lose all sense of what they look like when they pass pervy trans-vaginal ultrasound laws, attack access to contraception, and fight to kill the Violence Against Women Act. But if you step back and look at the big picture, why they’re so upset seems crystal clear: All their worst fears about feminism are coming to pass.

The hope of conservatives who rose up against feminism in the seventies is that they would be able to kill it off. All other concerns were secondary; they knew that the social effects of feminist victories wouldn’t be felt for decades after the initial waves of legal reform and widespread social agreement that women do deserve equality. Well, even though they did major damage to feminism, they did not, in fact, kill it. What they feared has come to pass: Women are making exactly the gains feminists of the second wave hoped they would: Rape and domestic violence rates are down, contraceptive use is up, women are delaying marriage and childbirth, more women are going to college than ever in history, women are popping up in leadership roles in government and media, and heterosexuality is becoming less compulsive. Any fool can see that most of this wasn’t possible without women gaining control over their reproductive systems. Realizing they’re losing, conservatives are making a big last stand to turn back the clock by taking this critical control away. The fear of female sexuality feels hysterical, primal even, but if you’re dedicated to patriarchy, it actually makes perfect sense to fear letting women control their own sex and reproductive lives. Even though it’s politically damaging to the Republican Party to let this outrageous war on women continue, for conservatives, giving up right now feels like losing forever.

This leaves feminists in an ambiguous position. On one hand, the absolute panic on the right over women’s rights should remind us that we are the ones in the right, and we are the ones who are winning the culture war, regardless of how many backlash-y pieces news magazines may run. But on the other hand, the tide of history is creating massive desperation on the right. Clearly, they are willing to do anything to turn back women’s gains, which is why any adherence to basic honest was abandoned years ago. That kind of desperation can be very dangerous, and we should not underestimate its power. 

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

Commentary Contraception

Hillary Clinton Played a Critical Role in Making Emergency Contraception More Accessible

Susan Wood

Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second-chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Clinton helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

In the midst of election-year talk and debates about political controversies, we often forget examples of candidates’ past leadership. But we must not overlook the ways in which Hillary Clinton demonstrated her commitment to women’s health before she became the Democratic presidential nominee. In early 2008, I wrote the following article for Rewirewhich has been lightly edited—from my perspective as a former official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the critical role that Clinton, then a senator, had played in making the emergency contraception method Plan B available over the counter. She demanded that reproductive health benefits and the best available science drive decisions at the FDA, not politics. She challenged the Bush administration and pushed the Democratic-controlled Senate to protect the FDA’s decision making from political interference in order to help women get access to EC.

Since that time, Plan B and other emergency contraception pills have become fully over the counter with no age or ID requirements. Despite all the controversy, women at risk of unintended pregnancy finally can get timely access to another method of contraception if they need it—such as in cases of condom failure or sexual assault. By 2010, according to National Center for Health Statistics data, 11 percent of all sexually experienced women ages 15 to 44 had ever used EC, compared with only 4 percent in 2002. Indeed, nearly one-quarter of all women ages 20 to 24 had used emergency contraception by 2010.

As I stated in 2008, “All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.”

Now, there are new emergency contraceptive pills (Ella) available by prescription, women have access to insurance coverage of contraception without cost-sharing, and there is progress in making some regular contraceptive pills available over the counter, without prescription. Yet extreme calls for defunding Planned Parenthood, the costs and lack of coverage of over-the-counter EC, and refusals by some pharmacies to stock emergency contraception clearly demonstrate that politicization of science and limits to our access to contraception remain a serious problem.

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Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

Although stories about reproductive health and politicization of science have made headlines recently, stories of how these problems are solved are less often told. On August 31, 2005 I resigned my position as assistant commissioner for women’s health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because the agency was not allowed to make its decisions based on the science or in the best interests of the public’s health. While my resignation was widely covered by the media, it would have been a hollow gesture were there not leaders in Congress who stepped in and demanded more accountability from the FDA.

I have been working to improve health care for women and families in the United States for nearly 20 years. In 2000, I became the director of women’s health for the FDA. I was rather quietly doing my job when the debate began in 2003 over whether or not emergency contraception should be provided over the counter (OTC). As a scientist, I knew the facts showed that this medication, which can be used after a rape or other emergency situations, prevents an unwanted pregnancy. It does not cause an abortion, but can help prevent the need for one. But it only works if used within 72 hours, and sooner is even better. Since it is completely safe, and many women find it impossible to get a doctor’s appointment within two to three days, making emergency contraception available to women without a prescription was simply the right thing to do. As an FDA employee, I knew it should have been a routine approval within the agency.

Plan B emergency contraception is just like birth control pills—it is not the “abortion pill,” RU-486, and most people in the United States don’t think access to safe and effective contraception is controversial. Sadly, in Congress and in the White House, there are many people who do oppose birth control. And although this may surprise you, this false “controversy” not only has affected emergency contraception, but also caused the recent dramatic increase in the cost of birth control pills on college campuses, and limited family planning services across the country.  The reality is that having more options for contraception helps each of us make our own decisions in planning our families and preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is something we can all agree on.

Meanwhile, inside the walls of the FDA in 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration continued to throw roadblocks at efforts to approve emergency contraception over the counter. When this struggle became public, I was struck by the leadership that Hillary Clinton displayed. She used the tools of a U.S. senator and fought ardently to preserve the FDA’s independent scientific decision-making authority. Many other senators and congressmen agreed, but she was the one who took the lead, saying she simply wanted the FDA to be able to make decisions based on its public health mission and on the medical evidence.

When it became clear that FDA scientists would continue to be overruled for non-scientific reasons, I resigned in protest in late 2005. I was interviewed by news media for months and traveled around the country hoping that many would stand up and demand that FDA do its job properly. But, although it can help, all the media in the world can’t make Congress or a president do the right thing.

Sen. Clinton made the difference. The FDA suddenly announced it would approve emergency contraception for use without a prescription for women ages 18 and older—one day before FDA officials were to face a determined Sen. Clinton and her colleague Sen. Murray (D-WA) at a Senate hearing in 2006. No one was more surprised than I was. All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes these success stories get lost in the “horse-race stories” about political campaigns and the exposes of taxpayer-funded bridges to nowhere, and who said what to whom. This story of emergency contraception at the FDA is just one story of many. Sen. Clinton saw a problem that affected people’s lives. She then stood up to the challenge and worked to solve it.

The challenges we face in health care, our economy, global climate change, and issues of war and peace, need to be tackled with experience, skills and the commitment to using the best available science and evidence to make the best possible policy.  This will benefit us all.

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