13 Women’s Bills That Every Woman Should be Aware Of

No War on Women? Here are 13 bills and laws that say otherwise, and they’re just the tip of the iceberg.

In 1912, women all over the United States marched for their right to vote. In 2012, we’re marching against state and federal laws that restrict our freedom to make decisions about our own bodies, make it easy for abusers to get away with physically assaulting us and fail to grant us the equal pay that we deserve.

Why are we still fighting this hard 100 years later? Because efforts to keep us “in our place” haven’t stopped. The official Republican party line on the War on Women is that it isn’t happening. It’s all in our heads. But there are bills popping up all over the nation like the heads of a hydra that prove otherwise. Sometimes, the bills don’t pass. But when they don’t, those same legislators – or successors with the same ideals – are ready to try to ram them through again… and again… and again. Here are 13 of the most egregious examples.

1. GOP Attempts to Redefine Rape for the Purposes of Abortion Law

Was it “rape rape” or just “kinda rape” because House Republicans draw a distinction, claiming that “real rape” involves the use of force. All those other kinds of rape – as in date rape, statutory rape, rapes of women with limited mental capacity or any sexual assault in which a woman is not fully conscious – don’t count as reasons to get an abortion using federal funds in the GOP’s “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.” The House Republican Majority really, seriously tried to redefine rape to rule out federal assistance for abortions in many cases. Mother Jones provides an example of how this could play out: say a 13-year-old girl is impregnated by a 24-year-old man. It wasn’t forcible, but at 13, she can’t legally consent to sex – it’s rape, plain and simple. She wouldn’t qualify for Medicaid to pay for an abortion. The bill would also forbid using tax benefits to pay for abortions, so that girl’s parents wouldn’t be able to use money from a tax-exempt health savings account (HSA) to pay for the procedure, either.

The House GOP ultimately stripped this controversial language from the bill, but then used a committee report to claim that the bill would not allow funding for abortions in cases of statutory rape. The bill passed the House in May 2011, but is not expected to pass in the Senate, if it even comes up for a vote.

2. United States Violence Against Women Act Fails LGBT, Native Women

Democrats and Republicans in the United States Congress have at least been able to agree that women should be protected from abuse. But which women? That’s the question that has held up the Violence Against Women Act for months. In April, the Senate passed the Democrat version of the bill, which extends protection to LGBT, Native American and illegal immigrant women, all of whose complaints about violence often get overlooked. But House Republicans stripped these protections from their own version of the bill, and now the two branches of government are at an impasse. Republicans are actually claiming that protecting all women from violence is an election year stunt, singling out specific groups for special treatment.

3. United States House of Representatives Votes to Let Women Die

They called it the Protect Life Act, but the bill that was passed in November 2011 bans the use of federal funds to cover the costs of any health plan that covers abortion – even in life-threatening situations. This simple fact led opponents of the bill to give it the far more appropriate nickname of the “Let Women Die” bill. The bilk obtains a provision that would allow hospitals receiving federal subsidies to refuse to treat women seeking abortions, no matter the circumstances. During the House of Representatives floor debate, Rep. Jackie Speier of California described in detail her own painful experience, demonstrating why abortions should be covered. “I was pregnant, I was miscarrying, I was bleeding… if I had to go from one hospital to the next trying to find one emergency room that would take me in, who knows if I would even be here today.”

What makes this even more frustrating is the fact that President Obama’s Affordable Care Act already keeps public federal funds separate from the private funds that cover abortion. What this bill is attempting to do is prevent women from buying private health insurance that includes abortion coverage through a state health care exchange. The bill is unlikely to pass in the Senate however, and President Obama has said that he’ll veto it if it ever reaches his desk.

4. Arizona Outlaws Abortion After 20 Weeks

Well, if the United States Government doesn’t succeed in letting women die, then by golly, Arizona will do it for them, at least on a state-wide scale. Arizona’s federal court upheld the most extreme abortion ban in the country in July 2012, criminalizing virtually all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, forcing physicians to wait until women are actually dying before they can offer life-saving care. It even bans abortions in cases where the fetus will not survive after birth, prolonging agony by forcing parents to carry pregnancies to full term and then literally watch their babies die.

The law flouts a Supreme Court ruling that states can’t ban abortion before viability, the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb, which is about 24 weeks gestation. And another problem is the fact that many severe fetal abnormalities and risks to a woman’s life don’t occur until beyond that point. Judge James Teilborg gave in to the totally non-scientific assertion that 20-week fetuses can feel pain, ignoring the obvious fact that women can feel pain, and plenty of it.

And here’s the bitter icing on the cake: the bill considers the starting point of pregnancy to begin on the first day of the mother’s last menstrual period, before life is even scientifically possible. That means women hitting the 20-week mark are actually only 18 weeks pregnant.

5. GOP Cuts Crucial Services for Low-Income Women and Children

House Republicans voted for a new budget that would drastically cut food, shelter and health care services for millions of struggling families, singling out low-income women in particular. $3.3 million would be cut from low-income programs over 10 years, which would lead to states dumping an estimated 14 million to 28 million people from Medicaid rosters. The bill, which Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney called “a bold and exciting effort,” would also either disqualify 8 million of the 47 million people in the food stamp program or cut the benefits for all of them, leading to a loss of about $90 worth of food per month for a family of four. Small victory for common sense: the bill was rejected by the Senate in May.

6. Repeated Attempts to Ban Federal Funding of Planned Parenthood

Whew. That didn’t pass, so everything is okay, right? Of course not. Congress is still battling against a women’s right to make decisions about her own health – including use of contraception, something that should be a complete non-issue in 21st century America. Republicans in Congress repeatedly attempt to defund or eliminate Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide low-cost health care to millions of low-income women around the world. Paternalistic religious imperatives to restrict abortion and birth control are having a very direct, real-life effect: women are being deprived of cancer screenings, AIDS/HIV testing, family planning information and other education services that could reduce health care problems and prevent unplanned pregnancies from occurring in the first place. 76% of Planned Parenthood’s clients have incomes at or below 150% of the federal poverty level. And when Congress doesn’t succeed, states are ready to take up the cause in their stead.

7. South Dakota Forces Doctors to Claim that Abortion Increases Suicide Rates

In July, an appeals court upheld a South Dakota law that requires doctors to recite anti-abortion propaganda to patients seeking to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Doctors are forced to tell women that abortions are linked to higher suicide rates – information that’s not based on reliable research. A 2008 John Hopkins review of the studies that claim the link between abortion and suicide concluded that even the highest quality studies on the subject showed no discernible differences in the mental health of women who’d had abortions and those who had not.

Women who want an abortion in South Dakota also face the longest waiting period in the nation (3 days), and are forced to undergo counseling at pregnancy centers that discourage abortions. But wait – it gets worse. South Dakota nearly made it legal to kill abortion doctors. State legislators sought to modify a “justifiable homicide” law to include killings that aimed to prevent harm to an unborn child, a provision that would have basically enabled people to murder abortion providers and get away with it. That bill was, thankfully, struck down.

8. Colorado Permits Private Businesses to Withhold Contraception

In Colorado, a small manufacturer of heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment decided that providing its employees with health insurance plans that cover contraception – as required by the Obama administration’s new healthcare laws – violated its religious liberty. As in, its “right” to discriminate against women in the name of the owners’ religion. Sounds like an outrageous request that goes against the United States Constitution, does it not? But a federal court in Colorado disagrees. An exception was made for this business, Hercules Industries, that could pave the way for employers all over the country to impose their religious views on their employees.

Hercules Industries, owned by Catholics, was granted a three-month temporary injunction allowing for further legal review of the case. Two similar lawsuits have been filed in Michigan and Missouri. The companies all claim that the law forces the owners to go against their religious beliefs forbidding the use of contraceptives. But as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) points out, this could pave the way for employers making decisions about health procedures like vaccinations and blood transfusions based on their own personal religious beliefs.

Mitt Romney, by the way, cheered for this ruling as well, in typically chilling privileged-conservative-male fashion. “Today’s injunction preventing the federal government from forcing one family business from having to choose between keeping its doors open and violating its faith is a step in the right direction. But it is only a step, not the end of the struggle. We must ensure that the same freedom to live according to one’s faith is available to all Americans.”

9. Wisconsin Equal Pay Enforcement Act Repealed

Think women don’t deserve to be paid less than men simply by virtue of being born female? Oh, you silly little lady (or radically feminized man, i.e. traitor). How wrong you are – according to Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who quietly repealed his state’s equal pay law in April 2012. The 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act gave women more avenues through which to press charges against employers for gender-based pay discrimination. In Wisconsin, women earn 75 cents for every dollar that men make (compared to the national average of 77 cents, which obviously isn’t much better.) A bill to roll back the provision passed Republican-controlled chambers of the state government before Walker put his signature on it, without informing the public of his actions.

10. Senate Republicans Block Paycheck Fairness Act

On the federal level, an effort by Senate Democrats to strengthen the 45-year-old Equal Pay Act failed in June 2012. The Paycheck Fairness Act would have required employers to show that wage differences between the sexes are job-related, not gender-based. It would also protect women from retaliation from their employers when seeking equal pay. The bill was previously defeated in 2010 by solid Republican opposition.

11. Virginia Requires Invasive Vaginal Ultrasounds Before Abortion

So you want an abortion, citizen of Virginia? Well, we’re going to have to violate you with an unwanted, medically unnecessary vaginal ultrasound just to make sure. That’s the message that Virginia Republicans sent to women when they attempted to pass a law requiring transvaginal ultrasounds prior to obtaining an abortion, an amazing invasion of women’s bodies (literally) that aimed to shame them out of their decision. The state’s Republican Governor, Bob McDonnell, originally supported the measure, an ironic position given his squeamishness over TSA pat-downs in airports. Ultimately, he backed down – sort of. While women are still required to have an ultrasound procedure before an abortion, they can choose an abdominal ultrasound over the dildo-like transvaginal apparatus.

12. House GOP Tries to Block Abortions ‘Motivated by Racism or Sexism’

But wait, there’s more! Alabama and Pennsylvania are both considering similar ultrasound requirements, and the U.S. House GOP tried to pass a bill that would have allowed a woman’s spouse to obtain a court-ordered block against having an abortion by accusing her of wanting to end her pregnancy due to racism or sexism. Because all of those smug white guys in Congress are so concerned about sexism.

13. Alabama Personhood Bill Declares Fertilized Eggs to be People

So let’s get this straight: fertilized eggs, according to Alabama legislators, are people with rights. But women – over half the population of actual people in the world – are being stripped of their own rights in favor of bits of biological matter that are not, scientifically people. Alabama is actually just one of many states including Nevada, Oklahoma, Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Mississippi that have introduced bills attempting to define the start of human life. The Alabama bill defines life as beginning at the moment of conception, a concept that would not only make all abortion illegal even when the pregnancy threatens a woman’s life, but would also outlaw contraceptives like birth control pills and IUDs. This bill, along with another that would allow the state to opt out of providing health insurance for abortions under the new federal health care law, is currently stalled in committee. The personhood initiatives in most of the other states have failed, but classifying a fertilized egg as a person will be up for vote in Colorado in the November election.

Photo: ProgressOhio

Stephanie Rogers

Stephanie Rogers currently resides in North Carolina where she covers a variety of green topics, from sustainability to food.