Women’s Work is Never Done

Yesterday, Sen. Maria Cantwell went on Chris Mathews’ “Hardball” to talk about Republicans who are opposing the Violence Against Women Act because it would expand protections against domestic violence to 5,000 more battered women in the country illegally, to Native women battered by non-Native partners, and to same-sex partners. Noting that many of the “illegal immigrants” in question are actually victims of sex trafficking, Cantwell said, “these are protections for prosecutions to give these women, who are victims, the ability to testify in court and to make sure that they are there as opposed to just letting the violence continue.”

Earlier this week, the governor of Pennsylvania defended a proposal that would have forced women seeking abortions to undergo a mandatory transvaginal ultrasound, which involves several minutes of prodding with a ten-inch plastic wand, saying women could just “close their eyes” during the procedure. Lie back and think of England, ladies.

In the state legislatures of Arizona and Kansas, lawmakers are debating bills that would allow doctors to lie to women who would otherwise terminate their pregnancies about potentially life-threatening birth defects.

Meanwhile, in Texas, governor and craziest-Presidential-candidate-for-a-second Rick Perry refused to accept federal funds for the state’s Women’s Health Program unless the program dropped coverage for Planned Parenthood.

Earlier this week, the Obama Administration dropped the state from the program, which, until now, funded 90 percent of costs to help poor Texas women get gynecological exams, cancer screenings, and contraception.

Although calling Perry’s bluff (when the alternative, effectively, would be negotiating … with Rick Perry) might look like a badass move on the part of the President—who’s simultaneously launching a massive campaign to win back women’s votes after a majority of women went for McCain in the 2008 election—there’s a major flaw in that logic. To date, Obama’s only substantive effort on behalf of women’s access to health care has had the effect of denying health care to thousands of low-income women. Although his health-care plan theoretically mandates access to contraception, it includes huge loopholes that allow religious and religiously affiliated institutions to refuse to provide that coverage—and requiring women who want birth control to jump through hoops to obtain it directly from their insurance company.

Instead of standing up for women, the Obama Administration (and, for that matter, male Democrats in the US Senate) have been more than willing to outsource the fight for women’s autonomy to their female colleagues—among them Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senate Democratic women (joined by a lone Republican, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska).

Frankly, I’m tired of having these debates. I can’t imagine how tired the women in Congress (including Washington State Sens. Cantwell and Patty Murray) are of having to defend women’s bodily autonomy—including, now, the right of undocumented and Native women to escape abusive relationships—in 2012, nearly 20 years after the Violence Against Women Act first passed and 50 years after the legalization of birth control.

And I’m tired of male politicians who don’t see that, as Clinton said all the way back in 1995, women’s rights are human rights, and protecting them shouldn’t be just “women’s work.”