A nation’s progress should be measured as much by its advancement of human rights as by its accumulation and equitable distribution of wealth.
Though conditioned on gender, race and property, we were the first nation on earth to embrace the fundamental principle of democracy. Had we remained as we were at our founding we would likely have dissolved as a nation but we changed. We progressed. We answered the challenges of human evolution.
With the adoption of a constitution replacing the Articles of Confederation, we announced to the world that we were one nation, united in principle and purpose. We became a union with a strong federal government that could defend our borders and guarantee the rights of our citizens enumerated in the Bill of Rights.
We reformed our democracy by empowering the people to elect not only our representatives in the lower house but also our senators in the upper chamber of congress. We expanded our franchise by eliminating property as a condition of voting. We survived a bloody civil war, abolishing slavery and eventually welcoming all races to the full rights of citizenship.
We enfranchised women.
Last among all our major advancements toward a more perfect democratic union and a more civilized society, we gave women the right to vote.
The Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965), as well as Brown v. Board of Education (1954), went a long way toward assuring that the rights promised to racial minorities would be delivered by force of law. The Civil Rights Act was expanded at the last moment to include women but the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have banned all forms of sexual discrimination, failed.
Now a majority of our citizenry, women were last to receive the vote and have never been granted full equality under the law of the land.
It is against this backdrop of neglect and abuse that the full-throttle assault on women’s rights must be viewed. When the birth control pill was approved for use in 1957, the liberating effect it had on women cannot be understated. Until then sexually active women who did not want to become pregnant had to convince male partners to wear a condom or relied on the notoriously ineffective rhythm method. As a result, women commonly experienced unwanted pregnancies. Until Roe v. Wade (1973) those women had no legal recourse in a majority of states but to give birth to an unwanted child. Many chose illegal and unsafe options, backroom abortions, rusty coat hangers in seedy hotels. Many died and many were permanently scarred.
Today over 100 million women use the pill worldwide, including twelve million American women, and a woman’s right to choose abortion in the case of unwanted pregnancy is the law of the land.
These were hard won and important victories in the battle for women’s rights and in the case of abortion women have had to work equally hard to hold on to them.
Now, it is not only the right to choose abortion that has come under fire but also the right to use oral contraception. The latest tactic in the war on women is the attempt, invariably led by old white men, to define life at inception. These laws, unwittingly or not, would outlaw the use of birth control pills as well as banning abortion.
It is a blatant attempt to circumvent Roe v. Wade and one that will be tested by the law. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court as it is presently constituted shows no proclivity to uphold the rights of women unless those women are corporate representatives.
The Catholic Church recently entered the battle by claiming that provisions in the new health insurance law violated the separation of church and state by requiring Catholic institutions to cover contraception. They are putting the cart before the horse. The first amendment does not empower churches to control their follower’s lives or restrict their employees’ choices. The practice of religion is an individual right and individuals can choose whether or not they wish to follow the church’s teaching.
The Virginia legislature declared their own war on women by passing a law that will require women who want abortions to be subject to trans-vaginal ultrasound imaging. Under this unconscionable legislation, a woman could be raped once by a deviant misfit and raped again by agents of the Virginia government. We can have no doubt that the insertion of an ultrasound device into a woman’s vagina against her will by force of threat or intimidation is a sexual assault.
The first time a woman is subjected to this procedure, every member of the Virginia legislature who voted for this bill and the governor who signed it into law should be arrested and tried for conspiracy to commit rape.
Do we really want to go back to a time when a woman’s body and her most intimate decisions are controlled by men or government agents? Do we really want to return to backroom abortions? Do we really want an explosion of unwanted pregnancies and unwanted children?
This is a war on women and women’s rights. It is an attempt to set women back more than half a century. It is an attempt to impose the religious dictums of a very small minority on the backs of the majority of our citizens.
This war is aimed at women but it affects us all. It affects our nation. If we allow this backward morality to victimize women, the nation as a whole will fail in its responsibility to protect the rights of all, including those without power or representation.
Women do have power but their representation in government appears to be on the decline. It is unthinkable that this kind of war could be waged if women had anything resembling proportionate representation.
This is a war against all of us who believe in human rights. This is a fight for the soul of our nation. This is a fight to keep us moving forward to a greater realization of the American ideal. This is a fight against those who wish to push us backward.
This is a war we must not and cannot lose.
Author's Note: See “State-Sanctioned Rape: Trans-Vaginal Ultrasound Laws in Virginia, Texas and Iowa” by Andy Kopsa, February 15, 2012, www.rhrealitycheck.org.