State Legislators Grab Platform to Defend Contraception
With a mix of humor and dead seriousness, women in state legislatures act to force their male colleagues to understand what’s at stake in restricting contraception and choice.
At first, women reacted with fury and clenched fists at the moves by legislators to sharply restrict not just abortion but contraception itself. Within two weeks, however, dozens of female state legislators pushed back, with sarcasm and a sense of humor, proposing draconian restrictions on Viagra, spilled sperm, vasectomies.
The goal was to mock the anti-contraception proposals and to point up the hypocrisy of moves that would greatly expand government intervention in women’s health care decisions.
“I love what the women legislators are doing,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women in Politics at the Eagleton Institute at Rutgers University. “It seems as if every day, we’re getting both sides: a new state restriction on contraception and abortion but at the same time these responses from women state legislators.”
“They’re not doing this thinking these proposals are going to pass but they need to do something, to try to make a mockery of the whole thing,” she said. “It highlights again why it’s important to have women in these institutions… at least they have a platform,” she said.
• An Illinois legislator, Kelly Cassidy, proposed that men seeking Viagra be required to watch a video showing the treatment for persistent erections, saying “It's not a pretty procedure to watch.”
• A Wisconsin legislator running for Congress, Kelda Helen Roys, proposed an amendment that any man seeking a prescription for Viagra have a cardiac stress test first.
• In Virginia, Senator Janet Howell proposed not just cardiac stress tests but rectal exams for men seeking Viagra. Howell’s amendment failed by two votes, part of the chaotic debate on the proposal to require transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions.
• In Missouri, Representative Stacey Newman moved to restrict vasectomies except for men at risk of death or serious bodily harm.
• In Ohio, a bill introduced by Senator Nina Turner would require men seeking Viagra to see a sex therapist and receive counseling about “pursuing celibacy as a viable lifestyle choice.”
• When a zygote-personhood bill came before the Oklahoma Senate, Senator Constance Johnson proposed an amendment that said ejaculating anywhere outside a woman’s vagina constitutes “an action against an unborn child.”
Well before the Virginia furor about intrusive vaginal exams of women seeking abortions, the Texas legislature had mandated sonograms before an abortion.
That didn’t get much national attention or raise that much of a ruckus in Texas.
But then Texas Governor Rick Perry said he would not accept federal funds for health care for low-income women if local Planned Parenthood clinics got any of the money. These clinics serve millions of low-income women as their primary health care provider. As a result of Perry’s declaration, the Obama administration cut off funds to the state for low income women’s health care.
Suddenly, Rick Perry’s Facebook page blossomed with “requests” for help. Here is a sampling:
• “Hi there, Rick. I was wondering if you had any advice about what to do about mid-cycle cramping.”
• “... I need help quickly and I heard you are a better expert on women’s health than an OB/GYN.”
• “I have been researching chastity belts and would like your opinion.”
• “Hey rick - I was wondering if you could recommend a tampon brand for me since you seem to know so much about female necessities?”
• “I know you want to be involved with reproductive health, so I thought I’d let you know my period started a little early this month.”
Women have also started using the Republican primary forums to build on the flap over contraception curbs by grilling GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney. At an Illinois town hall meeting March 19, a woman said she wasn’t so much concerned about the economic-freedom issues he espoused but, rather, “what would make me happy? Free birth control.” He retorted: “vote for the other guy.”
The concerted effort by conservative state legislators to restrict not just abortion but contraception is no laughing matter, however.
An Arizona bill would require women to prove to their employers that they are using contraceptives covered by health insurance plans for medical conditions, not to prevent pregnancy. This would replace an existing Arizona law that requires health care plans that cover prescription medicines to also cover contraception.
A woman would have to “submit a claim” to her boss, providing evidence that she needs the pill to treat specific medical conditions. The Republican woman who sponsored the bill, Majority Whip Debbie Lesko, said “We don’t live in the Soviet Union. So government should not be telling the organizations or mom-and-pop employers to do something against their moral beliefs.”
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, said he supports an ultrasound for women seeking an abortion. He said he didn’t think that would be obtrusive because “you just have to close your eyes” rather than watch the procedure.
Even midst this serious stuff, a grass roots group of women have proposed a zany project to make fun of the legislators who are proposing new government controls on women’s health care.
They are knitting and crocheting vaginas and uteruses and hand-delivering them to male members of Congress.
“If they have their own, they can leave ours alone!” they said.
“We are women, we are strong, we are smart. And we have a sense of humor. We do not need government interference with our doctors or our health care,” they said.
“We do not need government probing our vaginas to help us make decisions about abortion. We do not need government to give us guidance about whether or not to take birth control. We do not need misogynistic pundits calling us sluts and prostitutes.”
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