News & Politics

The GOP Unleashes a Horrifying Attack on Women

The Republicans' unprecedented attack on women's bodies must be thrown back at them.

Republicans came to D.C. "and immediately started putting the government in charge of every single pregnancy in America," said Rachel Maddow on Tuesday night.

She's right, and it's horrifying: the blows to women's rights keep coming out of Washington every hour, it seems. The latest? A bill that would strip Planned Parenthood of allfunding. This bill is no surprise coming on the heels of a coordinated right-wing attack on Planned Parenthood and a spate of nasty undercover videos by discredited right-wing prankster Lila Rose. But it would do a lot of damage to a lot of women, explains Nick Baumann at Mother Jones:

"[It] will cut $327 million in family planning funding that goes to organizations like Planned Parenthood but that cannot be used to pay for abortions. This money, instead, is used to fund cancer screenings, birth control, and other health care services for poor people. The $327 million is the sum total of this sort of funding under current law. The House GOP is trying to zero out Planned Parenthood."

Republicans' twisted justification for cutting funds is that any money that goes to Planned Parenthood, even for cancer screenings, frees up the organization's funds for abortion. But the pragmatic reality shows that cutting such funding would be devastating to women, ending the ability for many of them to prevent pregnancy at low cost and thereby potentially causing more abortions. Cuts that would deprive women of cancer screenings are unconscionable. Because Planned Parenthood treats sexually active women as human beings, it has become target #1.

What's shocking about all these attacks is that the GOP doesn't even pretend to care about women this time around, as they sometimes do--instead, they're waging an all-out war on women's health. One of the most egregious salvos in this war on women is the treatment of "rape" exceptions to a proposed abortion funding ban. A massive outcry arose when the phrase "forcible rape" appeared in the notorious H.R. 3 bill--essentially redefining "acceptable" rape using an arbitrary term. It was a nasty bit of work, allowing for rape exceptions only if was the "right kind of rape." Note to Republicans, women said: all rape is forcible. The bill's sponsors claimed the offensive phrase had been removed. But according to reports on Wednesday, it was still there.

And yet another controversy has followed in this one's wake, thanks to anti-choice congressman Joe Pitts (PA) who introduced a new facet to yet another awful bill, H.R. 358. This new provision would allow emergency room and other hospital and health personnel to refuse emergency care rather than perform abortion procedures they disagree with. As Dante Atkins at Daily Kos writes, “This modification is simple: it would allow hospitals to make a 'decision of conscience' to let women die.”

Yes, you heard that right. Jill Filipovic at Feministe points outthe irony that when hospitals refuse life-saving abortions to women, the fetus often dies along with her. So, she writes, “the entire purpose of this bill is to allow ideologues to refuse necessary, life-saving care to patients, if those patients happen to be pregnant.” 

And it doesn't stop there. To add insult to injury, these kinds of attacks are also going down on the state level. Last week at AlterNet, we documented the ways Republicans have been using state-by-state legislation to deprive women of abortion rights, placing their own whim to indulge in some good old-fashioned sexual shaming far above the needs of their constituents hurting for money, jobs and health care.

The End of Abortion in the U.S.?

Is it a coincidence that all this is happening at once?

The assault on women’s rights has gotten so widespread that many on the left suspect it’s all being done to kick up a duststorm obscuring the passage of H.R. 3 itself. This is, after all, a bill ostensibly written to “codify Hyde” into federal law--but that would really take Hyde much further by preventing most women from accessing even private insurance that covered abortions. How? By denying government subsidies to any insurance companies that offered abortion coverage. So by logical extension, these insurance companies would choose to drop coverage for abortions rather than lose their federal funding. As TPM's Brian Beutler reports:

Ultimately, the impact of tax like the one in the Republican legislation would likely be to phase out abortion coverage in the private insurance market. This would upend the long-standing bipartisan consensus, which does not enshrine the idea that the government should exert pressure on private entities to deny medical services they don't like. And -- speaking of bipartisan consensus -- it would run directly counter to the politically expedient conclusion by both parties that people should be able to keep the health care they already have.

Blogger Digby’s concern is that the “rape” and “death” provisions in these bills are so appalling Democrats will expend their political capital fighting them back and then repeat the “no federal funding” canard as a compromise, thereby allowing these bills to pass and end insurance for abortions: “I think there's a fairly good chance that the House will pass a bill that quite a few Democratic Senators will jump to vote for since all the 'bad things' have been taken out,“ she writes.

Mike Stark has similar fears, writing in a post called "H.R.3: The End of Abortion in the US?" that despite efforts by Democrats, "nobody is saying with any degree of certitude that HR3 will die in the Senate."

Democrats Fight Back, But The Buck May Not Stop With Them

But have all these assaults gone too far for good PR?

Many of us have been wondering why the Democrats aren’t using this opportunity to paint their opponents as callous men using their government power to intrude on women’s lives. While Americans may not exactly be militant in their support of abortion rights, they don’t like cruelty. Remember when John McCain put women’s health in scare quotes? It was a losing moment for his campaign's image.

Fortunately, a group of legislators launched a major counter-offensive to use the Republicans' own tactics against them this week. TPM reported Tuesday morning that  “returning House Democrats and several of their Senate colleagues will roll out a multi-tiered attack on the GOP's abortion plans, simultaneously painting the bills as extreme, hypocritical and off the all-important economic message.”

Their bet is that independent voters won’t be pleased to see new legislators pushing abortion bill after abortion bill forward while unemployment hovers near 10 percent.

On Tuesday, Mike Stark reported on a press conference of progressive House members including "Jerry Nadler, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, John Conyers and others." Similarly, progressive Senate Democrats like Barbara Boxer, Al Franken, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Richard Blumenthal ran their own press conference and spoke out with the appropriate vigor. A video of Gillibrand’s statement is embedded at the end of the story. She came out swinging: 

“There is no doubt that these bills show a heinous disregard for the health and well being of women in America. It is a tax on all women who want access to a full range of health care. It undermines a woman’s ability to make her own decisions,” she said, standing before her fellow senators. She called the action on the other side of the aisle “an egregious example of not only overstepping, but a misjudgment of what the American people want. If the Republican party doesn’t believe that 51 percent of Americans deserve equal rights in this country, they will have a fight.”

In addition, DCCC launched a new Web site,, to call the GOP leadership out on "limiting" Americans' opportunities by focusing on abortion, instead of creating opportunities.

But it's not clear they have the solid 40-plus votes needed in the senate to stop bill after bill. And will they be able to prevent the Republicans from holding another vital concern hostage as they did with the tax cut fights? In the current political climate, with a president whose commitment to abortion rights is iffy, this fight will only be successful if there is public momentum behind them.

How to Join the Pushback

How can we, the public, capitalize on this moment to join Gillibrand and others in this important fight? Here's how to turn the tables on those who would legislate women back into the barefoot-and-pregnant era:

1. Sign and circulate petitions. There are several important ones out there, most notably from Planned Parenthood and Take a few minutes to add your name to the list and send it to your friends.

 2. Call your representative--no matter which side of the aisle he or she is on-- and explain that you think these bills are a shameful abuse of power and the wrong path to take, especially in the middle of such a dire economic crisis.

3. Bring the issue up with people you know who may not be liberal or may be in the vast mushy middle of the “choice” issue. Sometimes we’re afraid to talk about abortion because it makes our family and friends’ eyes glaze over. But this is a moment to pounce. Say, “I know we don’t always agree about abortion, but don’t you think this reveals that the Republicans are more interested in shaming women than in protecting fetuses? Why are they making this their first priority when they were elected to help us out financially?” Use this as the moment to expose Republicans as the social extremists they are.

4. Among your liberal brethren, take the fight to Hyde. Don’t back down on Medicaid funding for abortions the way so many Democratic politicians have. Here are some reasons why it’s important that poor women have full access to health care: first of all, it’s not “funding for abortions.” It’s Medicaid funding that gives low-income or otherwise underprivileged women the right to make their own decisions about abortion. Some will choose abortion, yes. But to deny this funding means you’re comfortable having abortion only be a right for those women with means.

Furthermore, ask whose rights are more important in this case: the squeamishness of taxpayers who may see a few measly dollars a year going to Medicaid coverage, or the "morals" of women who have to make that most personal, private decision themselves. Use Kristen Schaal's brilliant "rape-rape vs. "money-rape" comparison. Read Ann Friedman's American Prospect piece on how it's important not to slice and dice abortions into acceptable or unacceptable categories. If it's a right, it's a right.

5. Point out that these kind of attacks go far, far beyond abortion. The “rape” language, the letting women die provisions, and the attacks that now encompass not only Planned Parenthood’s abortion service but also its preventive services indicate that if we lose this round on abortion, right-wingers feel more and more entitled to legislate sexuality and personal health decisions, from birth control to stem-cell research to end-of-life care. 

Watch Gillibrand and Schaal for rhetorical pointers, below: 


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Sarah Seltzer is an associate editor at AlterNet, a staff writer at RH Reality Check and a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published in and on the websites of the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal. Find her at