Rolling back the clock on women's health

By:  Joni Balter
Source: The Seattle Times

Seattle Times - Joni Balter, Editorial Staff

Those pony-tailed Girl Scouts selling Thin Mints and Do-Si-Dos while shivering in the March wind may look cute now. But, according to one Republican lawmaker, they turn into Planned Parenthood-supporting zealots before you can say, "Cookies, four dollars a box."

A relentless attack, war, women-baiting — call it what you will — has turned the clock back decades. Suddenly, we are debating whether women deserve access to contraception. Suddenly, we see a slew of restrictions on women's reproductive rights.

And, in one of the most absurd renditions of anti-female barnstorming, Bob Morris, an Indiana state legislator, refused to celebrate the Girl Scouts' centennial anniversary because the Scouts "are a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood." Morris' halfhearted apology for the tone of his remarks, while still refusing to acknowledge the anniversary, did not wipe away the outrage.

Just when you thought the top issues in America were jobs and the economy, along comes a raft of anti-women's health-care rhetoric and lawmaking. It looks like an all-out effort to roll back the 1960s and 1970s. Or, for that matter, much of the 20th century.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington recently spoke in favor of renewing and expanding the Violence Against Women Act, passed years ago by a bipartisan vote. The law supports comprehensive responses to domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. It brings $17 million to 32 organizations in our state. Yet the law is high-centered in Congress over help for immigrant women and women on Indian reservations.

Another bill on human trafficking is held up in the U.S. House because of concerns about access to the full range of reproductive-health services when grants are made.

"At every turn, women's health is under attack," said Cantwell.

Mitt Romney all but trills his lips as he tries to pretty up an interview with a Missouri television station when a discussion about the federal deficit lapsed into stomping on Planned Parenthood.

"Is the program so critical, it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for?" Romney said. "And on that basis, of course, you get rid of ObamaCare, that's the easy one. But there are others. Planned Parenthood, we're going to get rid of that."

Later Romney said he only would cut Planned Parenthood's federal funding, not wipe it out entirely. How comforting to those who rely on Planned Parenthood for important health services.

Rick Santorum is so conservative he opposes contraceptive health-care coverage.

Women voters were quietly going through their lives, driving kids to sports activities, working, judging candidates on economic and foreign-policy issues when Romney and Santorum began a contest to see who is more hostile to women. Talk about poking Mama Grizzlies.

Senate Democrats, joined by Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, recently beat back the Blunt amendment that would have allowed employers to deny contraceptive health coverage to employees for religious or moral reasons.

All of which leads to a website of interest, sponsored by the National Women's Law Center. This is a site and public-relations campaign to explain, among other things, that 24 states have tightened rules on abortion in the last year, everything from invasive tests to mandatory waiting periods.

It gets crazier by the day. A Tennessee lawmaker wants legislation requiring the state to publish the names of every abortion doctor along with detailed statistics about women having the procedure.

Few among us are for abortion. Few of us thought women's rights were the most important topic in this nasty recession. Plenty of women are pro-life; I respect them.

But plenty of moderate, independent, Democratic and Republican women support the abortion option and are angered by the fixation on limiting women's rights and health care.

Can demographers please wake up Republican presidential candidates, tea-party lawmakers and obtuse talk-show hosts and tell them that 53 percent of voters in Washington are women. And women dominate nationwide voting by a similar percentage.

I suspect many female voters feel like I do. I will not vote for any candidate who participates in these absurd attacks on women and their need for legitimate, comprehensive health care.