Analysis Politics

You’ve Got Your ‘Panties in a Wad,’ Sarah Palin Says of Those Who Claim ‘War on Women’

Adele M. Stan

Palin closed CPAC with a speech that demonstrated the right's women problem: It's hard to win women when you can't help insulting them.

Read more of our coverage on the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference here.

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an annual gathering of right-wingers of all stripes, is often a raucous game of competition between various wings of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

While the same tensions were on display, beginning on Thursday with an opening salvo by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), at this year’s CPAC—conservatives versus “the GOP establishment,” religious-right types versus libertarians—the customary giddiness was missing from the jousting, now with the 2014 midterm election campaigns for Congress well underway.

But some things never do change. As it has ever been, CPAC is a man’s game, even as leaders of the Republican Party, in the wake of its unprecedented assault on women’s rights and reproductive justice over the last four years in state legislatures and in the U.S. House of Representatives, seek to convince women that the party knows what’s best for them.

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Of the 25 speakers featured on the website for this year’s conference, three are women.

Of the 2,459 CPAC registrants who participated in the conference’s annual presidential straw poll this year, 63 percent are men, and 37 percent are women. (Sen. Rand Paul [R-KY] won.)

Yet when Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and the first Republican woman to run on a presidential ticket, took the stage as CPAC’s big closer Saturday, she devoted about one-third of her speech to refuting charges by Democrats of a Republican “war on women.”

After complaining that liberals had “gotten their panties in a wad” and their “skirts tangled up over their heads” after Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame expressed “his devout Christian views on a television show about his devout Christian family” (actually, Robertson said that “homosexuality” leads to bestiality), Palin complained that the same “fainting-couch liberals” who got Robertson suspended from his show are “whining that we disrespect women.”

“They seem to think that the women of America are cheap dates,” Palin said. “Feed ‘em a few lines about that free birth control, throw in some scary quotes about the war on women, and they will be yours.”

Palin was apparently referring to the requirement by the Department of Health and Human Services that health-care plans offered by employers to employees as part of their compensation cover prescription contraceptives with no co-payment, which does not make the prescriptions “free,” but rather items covered by the insurance premium, whose cost, in most employer-employee arrangements, is paid partly if not fully by the employee.

The “war on women” is a broad term that is generally understood to refer to Republican opposition to the contraception insurance mandate, the target of two Supreme Court cases, and a Republican-led offensive against abortion access that has seen more restrictions passed at the state level in the last two years than in the two decades that preceded them.

The former governor, in her “cheap date” remarks, echoed a theme noted by Rewire’s Emily Crockett in a speech delivered earlier that day by CPAC Co-Chair Carly Fiorina.

Palin called Republican women a “sisterhood” that claims as its matriarchs Margaret Thatcher, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony. “Oh, this sisterhood so believes in and respects the power and purposeful potential of every woman, so much so that we’re the party with the plank that protects even our littlest sisters—in the womb,” she said.

She painted President Barack Obama and Democrats as those who are “enticing girls to think that they need these guys to grow government to take care of them.” Enticing.

Pretending to speak only to the women in the room (after telling the men to play a video game on their cell phones), Palin said, “Girls, we know better than to fall for that victimization line from the president and his party. … I know you know better, but if you have a friend or a sister or a roommate falling for this hooey, ya gotta set ‘em straight. Ask them, who’s really stereotyping you? Is it the people who believe that you are a thinking, achieving, striving, strong individual, or those who put you in a box and they define you still by body parts?”

She suggested that supporting Obama and the Democrats might be the kind of thing one might not feel so great about in the morning.

“Women, don’t let them use you, unless you choose to be their political pawn, or just your piece of accessory on their arm,” Palin said, emphasizing the first syllable of “accessory” and pronouncing it like “ass-essory.”

“Honey, that’s not liberation; that’s subjugation,” she added.

The speech was classic Palin, this time complete with a bad parody of Green Eggs and Ham:

I do not like this Uncle Sam

I do not like his health-care scam…

I won’t torment you with the rest.

Of course, her remarks were rife with barbs at the president. When she wasn’t painting him as a player looking for a cheap date, she took swipe at his manliness, especially in contrast to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, joking that Obama might poke the Russian with his pen.

“The only way to stop a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke,” she said, paraphrasing an oft-repeated line delivered earlier that day by Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association, about how best to stop a bad guy with a gun. (More guns, naturally.)

At the beginning of Palin’s speech, members of the media were given flyers advertising Palin’s new television show, Amazing America, scheduled to begin on April 3 on the Sportsman Channel, a sort of all-guns-all-the-time cable outfit (except on Friday, which is apparently archery day, and Sunday, which features some fishing shows).

Throughout the conference, speakers had a funny way of showing their appreciation for women. In what was billed as an homage to Firing Line, the long-ago debate show hosted by the late William F. Buckley, author and rhetorical bomb-thrower Ann Coulter debated blogger and author Mickey Kaus, who was billed as a liberal, an assertion many liberals view as debatable in and of itself. (Video here.) Coulter, one of the few women to grace the CPAC stage, suggested that the shaming of poor people is a good thing, and that it should not be shameful to say to poor people “keep your knees together before you’re married.” (By “poor people,” she apparently meant poor women. Rich people on the other hand, do what you please.)

Coulter also suggested that if immigration reform passes, those who supported it should submit themselves to “death squads.”

The day before, Fox News host and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who recently suggested that the only kind of women who wanted birth control from “Uncle Sugar” were those who couldn’t “control their libidos,” brought fire and brimstone to the CPAC stage, citing a quote from Ruth Bell Graham, wife of evangelist Billy Graham, who, according to Huckabee, said that God would have to apologize to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, cities said to have been destroyed by God for sexual iniquity, “if He did not bring fiery judgment on the United States of America.”

Huckabee was introduced by Rev. James Robison, whose anti-choice ministry is based on the fact that he was conceived in rape.

Later in the day, Huckabee hosted a screening of his 2012 anti-choice movie The Gift of Life, which was produced by Citizens United, the group for which the 2010 Supreme Court decision is named.

On an all-woman panel titled, “Why Conservatism is Right for Women: How Conservatives Should Talk About Life, Prosperity & National Security,” Crystal Wright of the Conservative Black Chick blog complained that the leadership of the Republican Party wasn’t doing enough to recruit women to run for Congress. (Video here.) But the same could have been said for the leadership of CPAC, and its failure to recruit women speakers.

Robin Abcarian, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, did a count of all the speakers on the CPAC stage (not just the 25 featured speakers mentioned at the beginning of this article), and found that of the 163 speakers and panelists on the CPAC 2014 schedule, only 35 were women.

“That’s a 57-point gender gap, people,” Albercain wrote. “If Republicans have any hope of stopping the Democrats’ blockbuster narrative that they are waging a war on women, they must first solve their own war of attrition on women.”

Or, they could try Palin’s approach.

“C’mon libs, can you really sing, ‘I am woman, hear me…’?” she asked, singing that half a line rather badly. “No, because donkeys just bray. Only Mama Grizzlies can say, ‘Hear me roar.’”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Los Angeles Times columnist Robin Abcarian’s last name. We regret the error.

News Law and Policy

Hearing Reignites Calls of ‘Justice for Sandra Bland’

Kanya D’Almeida

Judge David Hittner announced at the hearing that the trial would start on January 23, 2017, for a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old woman who died in police custody under controversial circumstances this past summer.

Dozens of activists in Houston, Texas, packed a federal courthouse Thursday, where Judge David Hittner heard arguments ahead of an official trial for a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old woman who died in police custody under controversial circumstances this past summer.

The judge announced at the hearing that the trial would start on January 23, 2017.

Bland had only recently moved to Texas from Chicago to take a position as a college outreach officer at Prairie View A&M University, and was driving home after a campus meeting on July 10 when a state Department of Public Safety trooper, Brian Encinia, pulled her over for allegedly failing to signal a lane change.

A dashcam captured the subsequent interaction between Bland and the officer, which quickly turned hostile and ended with Encinia slamming Bland into the ground while her hands were cuffed behind her back. She was then placed under arrest, allegedly for “assault on a public officer” and taken to the Waller County jail, about 50 miles northwest of Houston, where she reportedly attempted to post the $5,000 bail.

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On Monday, July 13, three days after her arrest, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that Bland had been found dead in her cell at nine in the morning, chalking her death up to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.”

Bland’s friends and family have aggressively denied authorities’ attempts to paint her death as a suicide, pointing to the fact that she’d just secured a new job, and never displayed any suicidal tendencies prior to her arrest.

On August 4, amid widespread outrage over what activists labeled the “execution” of a young Black woman in state custody, Geneva Reed-Veal, Bland’s mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit in a Houston federal court, naming Encinia, the sheriff of Waller County, Texas, two of the jailers, and the Texas Department of Public Safety as defendants.

Protesters who gathered outside the courthouse for the rally on Thursday held signs saying “Justice for Sandra” and “The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth,” echoing demands for transparency and accountability that took social media by storm the summer that Bland died.

Under the hashtags #SandySpeaks and #SayHerName, the latter coined by the African American Policy Forum earlier this year to refer to the long list of Black women who have died at the hands of the police, Twitter users for months have been calling for an investigation into Bland’s death. Rallies and marches held under the banner of the Black Lives Matter movement have similarly invoked Bland’s name in their larger calls to end police brutality.

Bland’s name has also appeared alongside the names of Black women and girls like 27-year-old Shelly Frey who was shot and killed by Walmart security in 2012 for suspected shoplifting, 22-year-old Rekia Boyd, who was shot dead that same year by an off-duty Chicago detective while she was standing in an alleyway with her friends, and 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, killed by a Detroit police officer while she lay sleeping in her grandmother’s home in 2010.

One Huffington Post article identified 15 Black women who’ve lost their lives during encounters with the police in the last 15 years alone.

Bland’s death also inspired the #IfIDieInPoliceCustody hashtag, which amounted to a catalog of “unofficial advance directives” to family members and society as a whole for what to do in the event of a death at the hands of law enforcement personnel.

“That black people feel they must preemptively endorse investigations into their own deaths speaks to both law enforcement’s troubled track record on the issue and the deluge of state violence to which black people have been subjected in the United States over the years,” said Zak Cheney-Rice at Mic.

Texas is notorious for fatal encounters with the police. In the last ten years alone more than 4,200 people have died in police custody, according to an investigation by the Guardian. While the report did not specify how many of these deaths involved Black people, research has shown that Black people are disproportionately incarcerated across the state, and an analysis of government data by the American Civil Liberties Union revealed that Black drivers in Texas faced the sharpest disparities of any ethnic group when it came to traffic stops and tickets for traffic violations.

Thursday’s hearing on Reed-Veal’s civil case comes as a grand jury in Waller County is nearing a decision on whether criminal charges against anyone are warranted in Bland’s death, according to local news reports.

A medical examiner ruled that she had hanged herself in her cell using a trash bag. Her family initially refuted these claims, but reportedly is now “open” to the possibility of suicide as a cause of deathAccording to an article in Chicago magazine, “The premise of suicide now forms the basis of [Reed-Veal’s] wrongful death lawsuit … [which] claims Bland ‘was exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress and hopelessness,’ including ‘bouts of uncontrollable crying,’ and ‘should have been placed in a mental health high-risk status, provided medical care,’ and not left unobserved ‘for long periods.’”

News Abortion

Nebraska Bill Would Require Abortion Clinics to Post ‘Anti-Coercion’ Signs

Teddy Wilson

LB 1032 would require clinics that provide abortion services to “conspicuously post a sign” that says it is “against the law for anyone to force you to have an abortion.” Opponents of the bill say such signs represent a subtle attempt to dissuade women from seeking abortion services.

A Nebraska bill would require reproductive health clinics to post signs ostensibly intended to prevent women from being forced into terminating a pregnancy. Opponents of the bill say the signs represent a subtle attempt to dissuade women from seeking abortion services.

LB 1032, introduced by Sen. Bill Kintner (R-Papillion), would require clinics that provide abortion services to “conspicuously post a sign” that says it is “against the law for anyone to force you to have an abortion.” The bill designates the size of the print to be used on the sign, and states that it must be “clearly visible to patients.”

If violated, the proposed law would carry a fine of $10,000 for every day that the required sign is not posted at the clinic during any portion of business hours.

State law already prohibits coercing a woman into terminating a pregnancy.

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Bills requiring abortion clinics to post anti-coercion signs have been introduced in several legislatures around the country in the last few years, usually in omnibus anti-coercion bills.

Nebraska’s judiciary committee held a hearing on the legislation on February 27, during which Kintner cited women being forced to have abortions as justification for the proposed law; he told the committee that women have been threatened with violence, withdrawal of financial support, and loss of housing, the Lincoln Journal-Star reports. “We know of cases across the country of women being forced by boyfriends, spouses, parents, and others to have an abortion,” Kintner said.

In an interview with a local NBC affiliate, Kintner compared the sign requirement to signs placed in bars warning against fetal alcohol syndrome for pregnant women. Current Nebraska law requires all establishments that serve or sell alcohol to post a sign that says “drinking alcoholic beverages during pregnancy can cause birth defects.” The Nebraska Liquor Control Commission is required to provide the signs to businesses.

The bill appears to be based on Americans United for Life (AUL) model legislation. AUL’s model omnibus bill Coercive Abuse Against Mothers Prevention Act includes a section on sign postage requirements, which has identical sentences and phrases to LB 1032. 

The Nebraska Family Alliance, an affiliate of Focus on the Family, supports the bill. During a legislative update video, Nebraska Family Alliance Policy Director Dave Bydalek said, “Studies have shown that about 64 percent of women who say they’ve had an abortion felt that they’d been pressured by family members or boyfriend or spouse.” 

Bydalek is likely referring to a 2004 report by the anti-choice Elliot Institute, which claimed that among U.S. women who reported having an abortion, “64 percent ‘felt pressured by others’ to have the abortion.” 

According to a report from the Guttmacher Institute, the number of instances in which a woman may have been coerced into terminating a pregnancy is much fewer. One study found that the proportion of women citing influence from partners or parents as their most important reason for terminating their pregnancy was less than 1 percent.

Susan Allen, director of marketing and communications at Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, told Rewire that LB 1032 is unnecessary legislation because information about coercion is already provided for all patients considering abortion in Nebraska. “Information should never be provided with the sole purpose of coercing, shaming, or pressuring a woman into making a decision that is not right for her,” said Allen.

Allen says that every patient at Planned Parenthood considering abortion undergoes counseling to ensure she is not subjected to duress or coercion of any kind. “Through a decision assessment tool that the patient completes, the patient is asked how her decision was made and what support system she has,” said Allen. “Our staff then reviews this assessment with the patient and if there is any indication that coercion may be taking place, our staff will provide the patient the additional resources she needs.”

The bill awaits a vote by the committee, after which it can be voted on by the full senate. Because Nebraska has a unicameral legislature, bills are only voted on by the senate before moving to the governor for signature or veto.

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