"Sex is not the Enemy" - Garbage
Young Conor Friedersdorf may have moved to Venice California, but his head and his heart are still firmly planted in the media village we call DC. He has produced a perfect specimen (and I choose that term deliberately) of the classic village trope -- both sides are doing X and the truth is Y, which naturally falls into the middle of where the two sides are -- why can't we all be reasonable and cut out this extreme talk, all of which we really know is merely political posturing. In this case, Friedersdorf deems silly the Democratic contention that the Republicans are engaging in a war on women and, with the fine impartiality that makes the man a future Sunday television show guest, condemns as well the Republican outrage over the Democrats alleged disrespect for motherhood. Friedersdorf does not bother to distinguish between the fact that the latter is a manufactured outrage aimed at the infelicitous remarks of an obscure Washington PR flak, while the former is a political shorthand for something quite real, a concerted attempt on a national level by the Republican Party to undermine or eliminate women's reproductive rights.
Thus, in response to a perfectly factual attack on the Blunt Amendment by Deborah Wasserman Schultz in which she objected to "bosses" being able to decide "what kind of access to health care women can have," Friedersdorf asserts that
It's perfectly legitimate to criticize the Blunt-Rubio bill and to set forth reasons why its passage would be bad for women. What's objectionable is 1) the implication that the Republicans who voted for this bill are motivated by antagonism toward women and engaged in an aggressive campaign to war on them (the truthful motivation is some mix of concern for protecting religious liberty and pandering to religious conservatives and opponents of sweeping health-care mandates). 2) The sly invocation of the phrase "access to contraception," as if what's at issue here is the ability to buy condoms or birth control as opposed to a debate about who covers their cost.
Friedersdorf is guilty of multiple sins here. First, he is typical of the libertarian boys who think of access to contraception and abortion as frills -- things that are not really "health care." This is nonsense. There are few things more important in terms of women's overall health and their sexual and economic autonomy than the ability to control fertility. The ability to avoid or terminate unwanted pregnancies or to optimally space the birth of children goes right to the very heart of a women's life for a very long period of time.
Second, although he seeks to minimize it, Republicans have consistently fought over the last several years -- especially since 2010 -- with a venomous vehemence against access to birth control. Let us count the ways: The Blunt Amendment is only the most recent battle -- think about their concerted effort against Title X, which they seeks to defund in their budget, their war -- and I think that is the only appropriate term -- against Planned Parenthood on both the federal and state level, their efforts to offer expansive "conscience" clauses to pharmacists so that they don't have to dispense contraceptives if they don't want to, and their fight against making Plan B available as an over the counter drug.
Third, in addition to these concrete policy measures, Republicans, most visibly Rick Santorum, have expressed hostility to the very constitutional underpinnings that make access to contraception a constitutionally protected right as they attack the Griswold decision and the right to privacy. The undermining of Griswold and Roe v. Wade are central planks of Republican thinking, not some marginal tendency. All of these waiting period requirements and ultrasound laws are designed to effectively destroy the right of women to have abortions or, at a minimum, to cause inconvenience and humiliation to those who dare exercise that right.
And yet, Friedersdorf blithely asserts that
the life prospects of my fiance, my sister, my mother, and my female friends and acquaintances, I can only conclude that they're mostly unaffected by whether President Obama wins the White House or Mitt Romney manages to unseat him. Were my preferred candidate, Gary Johnson, to improbably be elected, Muslims, innocents accused of terrorism, and folks proximate to the drug trade would be better off. But I doubt he'd do much to make the lives of women appreciably better. It's one of the many privileges of living in this country: daily life goes on largely unaffected by the whims of the man or woman who inhabits the White House. Unlike in Saudi Arabia or Iran, women as a class aren't vulnerable to gendered oppression.
Spoken like a privileged, clueless, complacent, sheltered, glib white man. In case Friedersdorf hasn't noticed, the president has any number of powers that have real daily relevance to women's lives -- and yes, since women are the only ones who get pregnant, they are quite vulnerable to gendered oppression in this country. Indeed, the Republican Party seems dedicated to such oppression -- and no, the fact that there are women in the GOP like Jan Brewer who will joyfully go along with the oppression, does not make it any less oppressive. President Obama has drawn a line in the sand to protect Title X, his administration has fought measures to defund Planned Parenthood, and has sought to assure that family planning be a part of the basic health care services offered under all health plans in the United States. Most importantly of all, Obama has appointed two women to the Supreme Court who will assuredly uphold Roe v. Wade.
Romney, by contrast, has endorsed the Ryan budget, which will defund Title X, has enthusiastically claimed that he would "defund" Planned Parenthood, has indicated that he opposes the contraception mandate, and, in fact, would seek to repeal the Affordable Care Act altogether. And, of course, he will seek to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who will overturn Roe v. Wade.
If Friedersdorf thinks that these policy differences would leave most women "unaffected" he simply has no idea of the centrality of reproductive rights in women's lives. And that is a reflection, not of the trivialities of these issues, but of the callowness of Friedersdorf's world view.