Surrounded by lawmakers, President George W. Bush signs legislation banning so-called partial birth abortions in Washington on November 5, 2003. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Aspirins and short skirts and contraception, oh my! The last few weeks have seen a slew of Republican gaffes concerning women’s sexuality. From Rick Santorum’s billionaire supporter Foster Friess’s waxing nostalgic about the good old days when women put aspirin "between their knees” in lieu of contraception to an online furor over whether the young conservative women at CPAC dressed too provocatively—the GOP has a major woman problem on their hands.
Their fear of sex—of women’s sexuality in particular—has become a major media talking point, and a source of outrage among American women. But what I don’t understand is why anyone is surprised. Republicans have long based their agenda for women in a deep-rooted disdain for all things female. We’ve been down this road many, many times before.
When a picture of Congressman Darrell Issa’s all-male panel on birth control (the make-up of which prompted several Democratic women to walk out of the hearing) hit the Internet and mainstream media—I couldn’t help but be reminded of a similar picture of George W. Bush signing the “partial birth” abortion ban, surrounded by a group of smiling clapping men. All men. (Santorum was one of them.)
Dahlia Lithwick reported last week in Slate on a law that’s poised to pass in Virginia that would make it legal to penetrate abortion-seeking women against their wills by requiring a medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound—a procedure that would count as rape under state law. Delegate David Englin told Lithwick that one Republican lawmaker told him that the invasive ultrasound wasn’t an issue because women seeking abortions had already made the decision to be “vaginally penetrated when they got pregnant.” Apparently once women have been penetrated, all other future penetrations should be no problem, consent notwithstanding.
If this attitude sounds radical, consider that up until 2008, it was the basis for Maryland rape law. If a woman initially agreed to sex, but later withdrew consent, any sex that followed wasn’t rape. The justification was based on archaic legislation that said after the initial “de-flowering” of a woman, nothing could be considered rape because “the damage was done,” she was no longer a virgin and couldn’t be “re-flowered.”
The focus on birth control is not new either. Conservatives and Republican appointees successfully held up emergency contraception for over-the-counter status for three years in the FDA, despite a recommendation from an independent joint advisory committee to the agency to make the drug available. Dr. W. David Hager—appointed by then President Bush to the FDA’s Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs—told the New York Times about why he voted against the drug’s approval, noting, “What we heard today was frequently about individuals who did not want to take responsibility for their actions and wanted a medication to relieve those consequences.” (Hager also penned a book in which he argued that prayer could cure PMS—quite the expert on women’s health!)