Cold War on Women

The House’s implicit decision to kill reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act at the end of the 112th Congress didn’t get as much attention as the Sandy Funding Fail, but it was an appropriate exclamation point to a two-year cycle after the GOP landslide of 2010 when it has been open season on women’s rights.

All those pundits who keep telling us the culture wars are over should pay attention: the primary stated rationale for the House GOP’s opposition to a Senate-passed version of the VAWA (as opposed to less seemly, muted rationales involving a general hostility to feminism in any form) was an objection to the extension of rights to people in LGBT couples–who presumably deserve whatever they get after defying God’s Law–undocumented folk, and Native Americans. As a result, the entire law was deep-sixed for the first time since its enactment in 1994.

Meanwhile, the Guttmacher Institute reports that 2012 was the second-worst year since it began keeping records in the mid-1980s when it came to new state-imposed restrictions on reproductive rights–second to the previous year, 2011. A mere 43 new laws were enacted restricting abortion rights, as compared to 92 a year ago. Abortion rights supporters actually launched a bit of a comeback:

Against the backdrop of a contentious presidential campaign in which abortion and even contraception were front-burner issues —to a degree unprecedented in recent memory—supporters of reproductive health and rights were able to block high-profile attacks on access to abortion in states as diverse as Alabama, Idaho, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Similarly, the number of attacks on state family planning funding was down sharply, and only two states disqualified family planning providers from funding in 2012, compared with seven in 2011.

Note this kicker:

That said, no laws were enacted this year to facilitate or improve access to abortion, family planning or comprehensive sex education.

Guttmacher suggests the Virginia fiasco in February involving legislation requiring a pre-abortion ultrasound procedure helped make 2012 a less toxic year for reproductive rights:

In February, a firestorm erupted in Virginia when it became known that the proposed mandate would, in practice, necessitate performance of a transvaginal ultrasound. The controversy not only led to passage of a somewhat weaker requirement in Virginia but also is widely seen as having blunted efforts to mandate ultrasound in Alabama, Idaho and Pennsylvania. With the addition of Virginia, eight states require an ultrasound prior to receiving an abortion

The big pro-choice victory, of course, was in November, when a presidential candidate leading a party sworn to overturn abortion rights in the Supreme Court and via federal legislation failed to win the White House. But the consolidation of the anti-choice movement’s control over the GOP is now complete, and there are few if any signs of a reconsideration. Yes, now as ever, you’ll hear GOP pols say the assault on reproductive rights is a low priority. But in practice, that just means the war on women is a cold one, carried out quietly, and sometimes by simple inaction.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.