Reality Check for Women
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In these insecure times, Democratic women voters supposedly are drifting toward George W. Bush. I'll believe it when I see it. But just in case, perhaps it's time for a reality check.
After all, this is not your daddy's backlash.
Back in the 1970s when George W's dad was shedding his pro-choice views to curry favor with the religious right, anti-feminists used plain language. Backlash groups like the Eagle Forum called themselves "the alternative to women's liberation" and dreamed up legislation like 1981's omnibus Family Protection Act that sought to eliminate federal support for equality in education and legal aid for women seeking divorce. They proposed repealing the Equal Pay Act, censoring birth control information before marriage and banning abortion.
Their legislation stalled because the majority of Americans – then and now – support equality for women in education and the workplace and don't want to return to the age of back-alley abortions for the poor and back-office secret surgery for the rich. So, the backlash had a makeover.
Today, the very same anti-liberation movement calls itself "pro-family." Antipathy to women's equality in the workplace has become "pro-motherhood" and the radical plan to overhaul our society as a faith-based state casts itself as the movement to "defend traditional values." Bush's supporters even say "W Stands for Women." Nothing could be further from the truth.
A "pro-family" president would fund childcare instead of slashing it. Only one in seven children eligible for federal childcare assistance now receives it. As part of its welfare package, the administration has proposed cutting the number of needy children served by the Child Care and Development Block Grant. By its own estimate, the president's 2005 budget plan would result in 300,000 children losing childcare assistance by fiscal year 2009.
An administration that really stood for women wouldn't stand for women receiving 75 cents for every man's dollar for the same hour worked. The pay gap has been growing, not shrinking under George W. Bush, but his administration nonetheless abolished the government's Equal Pay Matters Initiative and removed fact sheets about equal pay from federal government Web sites.
A president who really cared for mothers wouldn't support healthcare workers who refuse to offer women legal services. Earlier this fall, the Republican-led House voted to approve a Federal Refusal Clause, which would allow any doctor, hospital or health care provider to refuse to perform an abortion, and refuse to refer a patient seeking an abortion to another doctor, even in the case or rape or medical emergency. BBC News reports that 12 states have taken steps to introduce "conscience clauses" in their state legislatures, allowing pharmacists to refuse to dispense certain prescription drugs, including birth control, without risk of losing their jobs. In recent months, several pharmacists around the country have refused to fill prescriptions for the pill.
Don't like frivolous lawsuits? Stop passing frivolous laws. The patently unconstitutional Partial Birth Abortion Act, which included no exception for danger to a woman's life, served Bush's political purposes, but it's already been struck down in three states.
The Bush-Cheney campaign likes to use the phrase "flip-flop" to smear Kerry, but their record is strewn with flip-flopping on the facts. They've distorted good science on abortion, sex education and breast cancer.
George W. Bush also loves to trumpet his concern for "the unborn." He supported the Unborn Victims of Violence Act that granted adult legal status to embryos in uterus. But people really concerned about fetal health would be a whole lot more concerned about chemicals making their way into women's bodies. They wouldn't let industry decide how much fetus-destroying mercury is allowed to concentrate in our fish.
A president who cherished individual freedoms also would have qualms about "fetal protection" laws – such as those that now exist in many states – that have a habit of resulting in the policing of pregnant women. Such laws subject pregnant women to different standards than other citizens.
As for democracy, for all his talk, Bush mostly circumvents the people's Congress. Rather than risk defeat on the question of equal pay or Roe v. Wade, for example, Bush's backlashers have rolled back key equal rights laws behind closed doors. The Department of Education did not announce when it "archived" its guidelines on sexual harassment in schools. Having failed to mobilize support for overturning Title IX (the equality in education law), department appointees simply saw to it that it was rarely enforced.
Even as they appoint extremist judges and await their chance to flip the Supreme Court, the administration has backed regulations that are quietly impeding access not only to safe abortions but to family planning. What global gag rules do abroad – impose a regime of censorship on family-planning groups that need or want U.S. funds – new health department regulations and so-called abstinence grants do at home. The administration's 2005 budget recommends $270 million for abstinence-only programs that censor information on other ways to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.
New guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control demand that all such materials include information on the "lack of effectiveness of condom use" in preventing the spread of HIV and other STDs. Again, never mind the science to the contrary.
Why is Bush appealing to some women? Some say it's the way he plays to Americans' fear. But his tax cuts and resulting budget cutbacks are making life for the majority of women more grueling and more perilous, not safer. According to Business Week, 24 percent of U.S. workers are making poverty wages with few or no benefits and 58 percent of those workers are women. Food security, health security and security that their kids are not going to be drafted to Iraq – Bush is bringing American women none of those, and his vice president is scaring us to death.
There is one traditional value Bush seems to care little for: telling the truth. When it comes to his record, it's a value in dire need of defense.
Laura Flanders is the host of "The Laura Flanders Show" on Air America Radio and the editor, most recently, of "The W Effect: Bush's War on Women".