14 Oct A “Millennial View” on the ‘War on Women’
With the push to defund Planned Parenthood, which might result in a government shutdown, many have started to bring up the old ‘war on women’ as a way to simplify the debate: you’re against women, or you’re for Planned Parenthood. The controversy specifically stems from videos showing Planned Parenthood representatives discussing the financial terms for donating fetal tissue to researchers – a legal measure that nonetheless many found shocking.
A quick preface: these are complicated issues. That’s actually part of the point. I know many women (and men!) ,myself included, who have changed their minds about so-called “Women’s Issues” over time. But no position however conservative on abortion, abstinence, or birth control, is at its core or by nature anti-women.
So why do people think that, and what can you use as evidence to counter it?
Restricting women’s choices
Some believe there is a “War on Women” because of efforts by social conservatives to reduce abortions. By requiring ultrasounds and waiting periods, regulating abortion clinics, defining “personhood” as beginning at birth, and in some cases restricting when abortions can be performed (e.g., not after 20 weeks, or only in cases of rape or incest), the argument goes, conservatives are denying women choices.
Believing that idea requires believing that in cases of abortion, there is only one person to consider, only one person whose choices are being restricted by the law – the mother. Otherwise, there would be a need for the law to balance the needs and choices and rights of women with the needs and choices and rights of the other party. What other party is there? Well, in the case of abortion, there’s the unborn child.
Another version of the argument focuses on access to birth control. Conservatives have typically said companies and other institutions shouldn’t be forced to provide health benefits, like contraception, that they find morally wrong for religious reasons. Critics again see this as anti-women.
Once again, to say that this constitutes a “war on women” is to act as though the only party affected by the law, the only one whose needs should be considered, is the woman seeking care. But what rights do the company leaders have?
I’m not saying it’s a clear-cut issue, but I am saying there is more than one party involved whose rights have to be considered by the law, and in no case is it necessarily all women vs. the “other” side – many pro-life advocates are women, as are some religious business owners. The right answer, in terms of politics, is probably somewhere in a middle ground, with each state finding its own way that suits its citizens.
Restricting women’s opportunities
The more dangerous allegation is that conservatives are against women’s equality in the working world – equal pay for equal work.
A lot of that comes from Governor Scott Walker’s 2012 decision to repeal an “Equal Pay Enforcement Act” in Wisconsin. The Act didn’t make discrimination against women illegal – it already was – but it made it easier to sue employers (it allowed lawsuits in an easier, cheaper court – state court – instead of federal).
The governor’s reason for dismantling it was to reduce the cost of doing business in Wisconsin. The rationale was that if almost every fired employee could sue for discrimination, it would be harder to fire people at all, and therefore riskier to hire them in the first place. The goal was economic growth, not supporting discrimination.
But if you read the coverage, you’d think the Governor had made it legal to pay women less than men for the same work. Obviously, if that were the case, it’d be a disturbing sign. But there are very few people I know of who would actually support such an awful thing.
So when you hear about the “war on women,” ask the other person to really think about whether there’s more than one side to the story.
–Lauren M., San Diego