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Taylor Fleming writes: "It's strange to realize that one of the dominant battlegrounds in one's lifetime is not some exotic place like Iraq - or even the war on terror. No, the ultimate battlefield has been the female body."

The return of the culture wars to the 2012 Election refocused the debate onto a familiar battleground. (photo: Matt Mahurin/Politico)
The return of the culture wars to the 2012 Election refocused the debate onto a familiar battleground. (photo: Matt Mahurin/Politico)



The Female Body As Battlefield

By Anne Taylor Fleming, Politico

11 February 12

 

id I expect this? Did any of us foresee that in 2012 there would be a full-tilt battle about women's health and how it should be handled?

In the thick of the presidential race, with the continuing mortgage mess and a still-precarious economy, this is what engages the most passion - certainly from those on the right. It seems to be the cultural issue they think can carry them forward.

I am not talking just about abortion - a morally divisive issue that is always there, simmering. This involves even contraceptives - who should get them, who should pay for them, or not.

It's strange to realize that one of the dominant battlegrounds in one's lifetime is not some exotic place like Iraq - or even the war on terror. No, the ultimate battlefield has been the female body.

So here we are again, with the Republican candidates trying to outdo each other in the sanctity-of-life sweepstakes. They regularly have to do this to play to their religious base. But this round, the intensity has picked up. There is a new fervency in the air.

One candidate, Mitt Romney, has done a full 180 - from pro-choice to anti. Another, Rick Santorum, has suggested that even rape victims should keep their fetuses, however “horribly created” those babies-to-be. They are, he says, gifts from God, whatever their origins.

On some level, one shouldn't be surprised. The abortion pushback has been going on since the Supreme Court decided Roe v.Wade almost four decades ago. Within three years, we had the Hyde amendment, barring any federal funding for abortion. Since then, there has been constant effort by the activists.

They always had a rhetorical edge: the language of “life” versus the language of “choice.” One sounded big, emotional, a matter of deep values, while the other seemed wimpy and selfish by comparison.

The pro-lifers' passions often came with a deep faith, not easily dismissed. Those who believe abortion should remain legal often seemed to be at a linguistic - and thereby moral - gap.

I've never written much about abortion because I could never figure out how not to tumble into seemingly unsatisfactory clichés. A woman's right to choose? Was there not something more urgent, more elemental? The right to privacy? That didn't seem big enough either - though it was the right on which Roe rested.

Always there was the question: Would there come a time when Roe could be overturned or so hobbled by various state restrictions that abortion could indeed become difficult if not impossible? In 2011, there were a record number of anti-abortion provisions passed across the country. Some curtailed insurance payments. Others mandated waiting periods or parental notification or obligatory sonograms before any procedure could be done.

In Texas, the abortion provider would be instructed to show and describe the image on the screen to the supine patient. Could she cover her ears - or would that be illegal?

No question, the religious right has never been more emboldened, which is one reason why Santorum can say what he said. Probably why, in fact, he has three new shiny state wins under his belt. And four total, more than any other GOP candidate. He is the man of the hour - the current thorn in Romney's flip-flopping side and the scrubbed family man antidote to Newt Gingrich's multiple indiscretions.

But Santorum's rise is, in no small part, because of his uncompromising clarity on the issues the religious right cherishes - abortion at the top of the list.

Compare abortion's tenacious grip on the national imagination versus, say, the gay marriage issue - which seemed to have similar heat but is now losing its hold. More states are allowing it, and even some conservative commentators have endorsed the idea. There is a generational divide - among the young, the issue just doesn't galvanize the way abortion continues to.

A majority of Americans still support abortion rights, 57 percent in the latest ABC News-Washington Post poll, and an overwhelming 81 percent think it should be legal in cases of rape or incest. But they continue to express qualms when it comes to a woman terminating a pregnancy because it is unwanted - “if she is unmarried and doesn't want the baby.” The inference is that a woman is being selfish, her “choice” not defensible.

There is still a deep and exploitable queasiness around this whole matter - and, at base, what women are allowed or not allowed to do, what decisions they are entitled to make - which has helped keep it alive for so very long.

It cuts into the deepest notions of women's liberation, of how a woman can determine the contours of her own life. Dealing with pregnancy, deciding when and whether and with whom, to have a child, is at the center of a female life. Despite all the gains women have made, there is still a complicated reaction to the notion of women being sexually free without paying some kind of price.

Look at the two hit movies: “Knocked Up,” in which a gorgeous, professionally accomplished woman ends up pregnant after a drunken tumble with a goofy pothead and, stretching all logic, ends up falling in love with him and having the baby. Or take “Juno,” in which a plucky teenager, finding herself pregnant, responsibly finds someone to adopt her baby. Liberated women meet Rick Santorum. They speak to the continuing anxiety that women are somehow sailing free from hallowed institutions like marriage - witness the lowest marriage rates ever. These movies reel them back in.

The most decisive way to do this is to control women's reproductive options. Which brings us back to contraception. Even that is in play now with the recent contretemps over Planned Parenthood, perceived for years to be a mainstream women's health organization providing birth control and cancer screening, most often to poor women.

Many on the right have been trying to strip the organization of any federal funding - insisting it is in the abortion business. Though the truth seems to be that well over 90 percent of the organization's services are for contraception and cancer screening and other women's health services. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer foundation walked into the controversy when it decided to pull its Planned Parenthood grants - eliciting a cry that, in turn, elicited a reversal.

It was a wild ride full of more passion and steam than any of the presidential debates. President Barack Obama has entered the fray by insisting that Catholic institutions such as hospitals and colleges (churches are exempt) must provide free contraception to employees in their health plans. This touched off another fury - all manner of commentators insisting that he was violating the separation of church and state.

Again, compared with all the hard issues at the heart of this political year, nothing has come close in terms of the vigor and anger generated by matters relating to the reproductive health of women.

That's where the long-simmering culture wars have come to rest: atop the female body.

Anne Taylor Fleming, a longtime commentator for “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” is now a columnist for Los Angeles Magazine. She is the author of two novels and one nonfiction book, “Motherhood Deferred: A Woman's Journey.”

 

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+37 # angelfish 2012-02-11 10:14
The reason that women's bodies REMAIN a battle-ground is because, some men, usually uneducated or extremely conservative men, can NOT get over the fact that they are no longer chattel and subservient to them! Men CAN'T get over the fact that women won the Vote, or that they, on paper, at least, have equal rights under the Law. The Law, being the Ass that Dickens so astutely observed, falls down on the job of ADMINISTERING these rights on occasion. The conservative and ignorant continue in their wrong-headed endeavor to put women "in their place" and back under the thumb and RULE of men. Well, folks, it AIN'T gonna happen any time soon! Women, you MUST remember, out-number men by almost two (2) to one (1). Most of us ARE educated and quite capable of taking care of ourselves and our families. Why men feel the need to dictate when, where and how our medical issues are dealt with should NOT be a Congressional issue. Women don't want to dictate to men how often they should be screened or treated for Prostate Cancer or if they MUST be seen by a Proctologist on a regular basis, despite the fact that MOST Conservative men have had their heads up their anuses for ever, see Rick Santorum, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner! I guess that's why they ALWAYS look like they just smelled something foul, who knows? At any rate, ENOUGH! Congressmen, need to STOP the war on Women's Reproductive health and concentrate on getting our Country back to Work and up on it's feet again!
 
 
+7 # X Dane 2012-02-11 19:40
Right on angelfish, and so witty I am still laughig. You ROCK
 
 
+33 # Sweet Pea 2012-02-11 10:22
The entire contraception issue just exemplifies the ignorance of the people of the U.S.A. God (or nature, or whatever you want to call it) gave us a brain with which to reason. Reasoning has told us that our Earth is already near the point on which we cannot support our population.
 
 
+22 # ckosuda 2012-02-11 10:57
none of this is new - it is appalling to realize, however, that the Equal Rights Amendment was defeated in the good ol' USA / thanks to blatant lies and mischaracteriza tions by Phyllis Schafley ( an attorney, traveling the country giving public talks, telling women not to work outside the home (unpaid labor, of course) duh!) and the lurid misrepresentati ons which included the notions that feminism is another word for lesbianism, and that the ERA would mandate men and women using the same public restrooms - horrors!

rich white men pull the strings / hold all the cards/ and want to insure that half the population is always underpaid, if they are paid at all / with no hope of advancement professionally and personally/ and that their lives are literally in the hands of these greedy ol' geezers who could care less if women have even the most basic of healthcare.

amazing.
 
 
+8 # Muffy787 2012-02-11 15:39
Schafley is and always was a "rhymes" with Witch. I am sick of her Coulter and a few other of those disgusting "women" to use the word loosely.
 
 
+24 # Adoregon 2012-02-11 12:04
Pregnancy, contraception, and reproductive health are all exclusively women's issues.
Period!!
Rick Santorum and all the Catholic bishops are male and, thus, de facto, never can experience pregnancy. What right do males, who can never experience pregnancy-- wanted or not-- have to tell women what they can and cannot do with their bodies?

Mr. Santorum, Catholic Bishops, and all other males... STFU on this one. Butt out and let women make their own decisions.

Women, be smart enough not to have sex with male troglodytes who think it is their right to control what you do with your body.
 
 
+14 # Caballero69 2012-02-11 13:29
The ultimate decision makers regarding pregnancy should clearly be female. Pregnancy, abortion, contraception, and reproductive health are not exclusively women's issues, however, because males have a right, indeed a duty, to stand up and speak out in support of women as they struggle for full human and civil equality in fact as well as in theory.

It is a miserable, cowardly male who will not stand shoulder to shoulder with his sister citizens.

Come on people now, smile on your brother AND YOUR SISTER, everybody get together try to help one another right now.
 
 
+17 # juliajayne 2012-02-11 12:24
There's definately a war against women afoot. It's always been there, but it's intensified now that it's so very apparent that the Rethugs don't have any other policy issues with which to beat Obama since the economy has (ostensibly) improved and people are feeling a bit more positive.

And this crazy fringe of Retugs and teajadists knows that it's losing it's stranglehold on this country as demonstrated by the pushback against corporate fascism with recall elections, as well as advent of the occupy movement and the recent backlash against the Komen people.

So they have to trot out a well worn social chesnut like abortion and by proxy, birth control. It's all they've got, folks! So women's bodies will continue to be fodder for the authoritarian wing of the Republican party. We'll see how far they get with this latest attack on Obama's contraception plan since it's very popular among us women types. ;-) I hope they're be able to hear us roar (dating myself with a Helen Reddy reference, ha). But if recent history is any indication, the sounds of fury at attempting to marginalize us are only going to get louder.
 
 
+13 # Jesus Follower 2012-02-11 13:12
It's so very interesting that conservative (and even some not so conservative) men love war which leads to indescriminate death, maiming and destruction of habitat for men but also women, pregnant or not, and already-born children. Where is their deep concern for children after they're born in our own society? Welfare mothers are despised in conservative circles. Where is the highly praised male logic in all of this? That's right. No where in sight. We know what this is about: king of the mountain; top of the heap; in a word, CONTROL. Pretty disgusting. Where are the minds of conservative women who stand for, nay, even agressively support this nonsense? Unbelieveable. And why is it that choice is so abominable to everyone? Why must it be made illegal to make a choice about ones own body/health? How about forcing men to have a vasectomy after fathering two children? How far would THAT get, do you think? CHOICE CHOICE CHOICE. To be pro-life, you do not have to be anti-choice! We have all the right in the world to have skeventylebben kids if we so desire, over-population be damned. Why do we have to be denied the responsible right to have one? Or none? As far as I'm concerned, a large part of this country is still in the dark ages and there is a plot afoot among conservative men to keep it that way.
 
 
+1 # Joan Manning 2012-02-15 19:08
Very good arguments. Since the "pro-lifers" insist that abortion is the taking of human life, how about this:
A man attempts to kill himself and fails. Why isn't he tried for attempted murder? Didn't he try to take a human life? A man can abuse his body as much as he likes, but let a pregnant woman smoke or drink and the day will come - if it hasn't already - that she will be arrested for child endangerment. We need education, not incarceration.
 
 
+14 # Art947 2012-02-11 15:14
This fight will end when women rise up and use their collective power to disable the hypocrites such as Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, etc. who want to keep using women for their own pleasures and devices.

Note that Joe Walsh, another phony conservative owes more than $117,000 in child support.

Santorum, Gingrich, Romney, etc. think nothing of sending other people's children to war.

Aid for women's health issues has not kept up with the costs.

Is sexual activity only for procreation? If this is the case, then Newt's second and third marriages are a farce!
 
 
+14 # RMDC 2012-02-11 16:11
In the state of Virginia today a law was introduce to declare that human life begins at conception and so all human rights apply to the embryo at conception. This will mean that a women who does anything that might harm here internal human being can be charged with the crime of wreckless endangerment. Fertility clinics who keep thousands of fertilized eggs will be charged with murder if any of them are destroyed. Virginia's jails will be filled up with women who have a miscarriage because she must have done something to kill the foetus.

There is not limit to the idiocy of the religious right wing.
 
 
+11 # X Dane 2012-02-11 19:59
Yes RMDC, this is the GOP, which is clamoring for SMALL government. They gladly throw it to the wind and go for MUCH BIGGER GOVERNMENT if they can enslave women again. Keep them in the kitchen, pregnant and barefoot.
The overpopulated worl be damned
 
 
+12 # Majikman 2012-02-11 19:49
The best thing that could have happened to wake up and infuriate women is this latest overreach by the patriarchy on contraception. The Komen overreach is the kiss of death for that organization. Pro life/pro choice is a no win issue framed as that. Change the framing to a woman's health, rights and freedom (which was the basis of Roe v Wade) and it's a whole other matter. Contraception concerns every sexually active individual, from teenager to senior...hormon al therapy also being used for conditions other than preventing pregnancy. If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, these stupid bastards have upped the ante tenfold.
For the record, abortion was legal and easily available in pre-Nazi Germany. After the Nazi takeover...outl awed.
 
 
-1 # Brian 2012-03-03 02:18
You weak women will die. You asked for it. We men gave our lives for you. Not any more. Fight for yourselves. You don't deserve our protection. Go to hell.
 

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