War on Women?

I have been growing daily more appalled at the news of proposed and recently enacted legislation in some of the fifty United States that appears to violate women’s rights in several different ways.

First a clarification. I am not talking here about whether or not contraception and abortion are good things, about whether or not they should be regulated by law. I have my own opinions about these issues, and I keep them pretty much to myself. The one thing I am very vocal about is that it is not up to me to judge someone else’s actions, much less try to control them.

So. Some states in the US will require a woman who requests an abortion to undergo a compulsory transvaginal ultrasound. What part of that makes sense? Counseling and a cooling-off period are, as far as I know, a regular part of the process. Compelling a woman to undergo an unnecessary, invasive medical procedure would be ridiculous if it weren’t such a brutal disregard of her autonomy.

I’m going to make a leap here, and I don’t think it is an unreasonable one. Have you heard about the “virginity examinations” performed on female detainees by Egyptian military security forces as recently as the end of last year? Here is an excerpt from a Reuters article that was posted on March 11th, 2012 on the MSNBC World News site (Source):

Controversy over the virginity tests gathered pace after a general was quoted by CNN last year as saying tests were carried out to prove the women were not virgins when they were detained, so they could not say they were raped in detention.

An army official later denied the comments were made.


A civilian court issued a ruling in December ordering the army to end the practice and a military judicial official then said cases of reported forced virginity tests had been transferred to the Supreme Military Court.

I am not alone in making this connection. Forbes.com, hardly a hotbed of radicalism, posted an article by contributing writer Victoria Pynchon called “Egyptian Virginity Tests, America’s Shaming Wand and Trudeau’s Satire” (click). The latter reference is to Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudeau whose cartoon about the compulsory transvaginal ultrasound has been refused by some newspapers that normally run his work. (This is the Los Angeles Times article about it.)

The legislation, if I understand correctly, all seems to come from a particularly conservative part of the Republican Party and is identified with certain Christian denominations or faith communities. However – and again, this is assuming I understand things correctly from far away in Israel – it does not appear to be a pan-Republican or pan-Christian phenomenon. One of the problems is that public debate is seldom nuanced; it is far easier to paint with broad strokes.

I wonder if the people who read this blog would like to join me in discussion about all this. I am very interested in finding out what my friends around the world think about it. Just one thing: comments are not moderated but, as always, I reserve the right to delete inflammatory, trolling or ad hominem comments. Argue fiercely and fairly.

So who’s first?


8 thoughts on “War on Women?

  1. I’m not able to respond fully due to personal circumstances but I do want to say that this proposed legislation is extremely controversial in the U.S. It has caused a firestorm in the news media. In several states there have been protests against this kind of legislation. The governor in Virginia reversed his support for such a bill after a thousand people ringed the capital in protest. A poll showed that the majority of Virginians were against the legislation, even though Virginia is traditionally a very conservative state.

    • Thank you, James. That’s some encouraging news. As I said, don’t think this is a mainstream conservative issue, but something rather more niche-oriented. I’m glad to see that my intuition seems to be correct.

      And thanks for your thoughtful and faithful readership and commenting.

  2. Thanks for covering this. Fortunately, you are correct that the assault on women’s reproductive freedoms in the U.S. is neither “Pan-Republican” nor ‘Pan-Christian.” It is an extremist over-reaction to the Affordable Care Act (disdainfully called “ObamaCare” by the right) and to the United States Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision finding a zone of privacy and bodily integrity and autonomy that gives women the right to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy within the first trimester.

    Birth control – an issue not seriously debated in this country for 30 years – has once again become an issue because the Affordable Care Act – which avoided the stigma of a federal program – anathema to the right – requires everyone to purchase health insurance and employers to provide health insurance to their employees.

    The Affordable Care Act is likely an even greater “hot button” issue in the U.S. than abortion even though the Act was crafted on a Massachusetts universal health care act under the governorship of Mitt Romney, now the Republican front-runner for President.

    NOW, America’s Catholic Bishops, who continue to condemn birth control even thought 90% of American Catholic women use it, claim their religious liberty is being jeopardized because they arguably might have to provide contraception to their secular employees as part of those employees’ health care.

    Women tend to think of birth control as vital to their health. People – men and women but largely men – think of birth control only in connection with sex. If that needs explaining, I’m sure I’ll do so at Forbes eventually.

    This morning, we learn that legislators in Arizona have put forth a law, which “got out of committee” by a 6 to 2 vote, meaning it’s headed to the floor of the state legislature for a vote, that would require women receiving contraceptive health care as one of the benefits of their employment to provide their employer with a note from their doctor justifying the prescription of birth control for reasons other than contraception, i.e., to assert that the women are not using birth control to control birth.

    That’s how polarized and on the edge of madness the country has come in response to these two issues – universal access to health care and abortion.

    I hope that helps.

    I wrote about the Arizona anti-contraception contraception bill at Forbes this morning: http://www.forbes.com/sites/shenegotiates/2012/03/14/why-arizona-wants-to-know-if-its-women-are-having-sex/

    • Welcome to Telling Knots, Vickie, and thank you for this very thoughtful and informative comment.

      I just read your new Forbes article, and I couldn’t agree more. While I mincingly say “public debate is seldom nuanced”, you tell it like it is: we are caught in a cycle of polarization and demonizing the other. At the same time nurturing dissent from within is one of the biggest challenges a group can face. It rocks the group dynamic and challenges its corporate identity.

      And yet… isn’t that what we must do to effect meaningful change?

      Thank you for giving me some good, solid food for thought today, Vickie. I’m looking forward to the new book coming out. I’ve just preordered it from bookdepository.co.uk (free delivery all over the world – no commercial connection, just a satisfied, repeat customer) and I’ll review it here on Telling Knots when I get it.

  3. I really am not up on the whole of what the procedure is, but it ‘sounds’ invasive – and the way the western world is becoming so ‘tolerant’ towards Islam, I can see any respect for women quickly being eroded even further 😦

    • I have had trans-vaginal ultrasounds twice, Maxine. The first time it was medically and urgently necessary (I had a life-threatening condition), and I experienced it as violent, invasive, embarrassing and humiliating. The second time was also medically necessary, but not an emergency. I knew what to expect, but it was still very invasive in a way that a regular gyn exam is not. I cannot imagine how it would feel to have to undergo it because of legal but not medical necessity!

      It is hard for me to think of tolerance of any religion as a negative development. Wasn’t the US founded on religious pluralism? (Think of the “pilgrims”, who were fleeing persecution by the established church and the Catholic founders of the Maryland colony, who were doing the same.) The problem comes, in my opinion, when the only people who are heard are the ones at the radical edges of each group.

      Do you see it differently? I’d like to hear.

  4. I must simply state that I tire of the politicians in my country deflecting the attention of the citizenry from the things that truly matter to our survival and giving time and attention to things like what a group of predominantly white, middle-aged, wealthy white men thinks needs to be done to a woman’s body without her consent. (Women have been conspicuously absent in the recent debates on the Hill and elsewhere around the country) The media is complicit in fanning the flames in these cases, while the smoldering pile of ash off camera is what will be the eventual downfall of the country if allowed to burst back into flame.

    Medically, this issue is ludicrous. Socially and morally, it is abominable.

    Don’t we have enough problems with our economy, our unemployment rate, our educational system and our diplomacy abroad that we should dispense with the issue-making and instead focus on the issues that are already thrusting themselves upon us?

    It doesn’t matter if you are liberal or conservative, black or white, male or female, religious or not. You can hide behind these labels all you want, but certain truths will remain, no matter how you try to smokescreen them by crafting legislation that targets women or any other group.

    Education, jobs, and a stable economy are the cornerstones of a stable country. Our foundations are cracking. Our edifices are crumbling. While our society burns, we continue to fiddle with things that are not helpful and in fact are hurtful.

    It’s time to stop the music.

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