Women’s bodies and lives are the terrain on which this conservative movement is making its stand.
By Melissa Harris-Perry
March 6, 2011
Using small-government, libertarian rhetoric, the Tea Party ushered in a new crop of Republican leaders under the banner of fiscal responsibility. But the aggressive anti choice legislation coming from the new GOP majority in the House makes perfectly clear that belt-tightening deficit reduction is entirely compatible with an older social agenda committed to pushing American women out of the public sphere.
These initiatives are well coordinated and poised to make an enormous impact on women’s lives. House Republicans, joined by ten Democrats, passed Mike Pence’s bill to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which in addition to pregnancy termination provides basic reproductive health care, STD testing, birth control and cancer screenings to millions of American women. The Republican Party has also proposed eliminating more than $1 billion from Head Start’s budget. As a result, 157,000 children may go without preschool care.
Meanwhile, the South Dakota legislature has considered a bill justifying homicide in the case of imminent harm to a fetus, a law that critics believe may in effect legalize the murder of abortion providers. Republicans in Arizona have proposed different birth certificates for children born to women who are not US citizens in order to nullify the birthright citizenship established by the Fourteenth Amendment. And Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is poised to eliminate most of the collective bargaining rights of public employees, including nurses, teachers and other pink-collar workers who are disproportionately women.
These may seem like disparate policy efforts, but they are not. They are the product of the ethnic and economic anxieties of conservative white Americans whose determination to “take our country back” has been a rallying cry since Barack Obama’s election. Women’s bodies and lives are the terrain on which this conservative movement is making its stand.
Since the introduction of the birth control pill and the legalization of abortion, women in America have significantly reduced the number of children they bear. This decrease in fertility has been particularly striking among white women. Fewer white women marry, most marry much later than in previous generations, far more get divorced and the size of their families has decreased dramatically. Along with these changes, white women’s educational achievement has soared, their participation in the workforce has increased and their health outcomes, lifetime earnings and political participation have improved. Today, more than three in five American women work for pay outside the home.