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The Politics of Being a Woman in a "Christian Nation"

The far right is pitting God against women. Mike Huckabee's support for the decision to deny a 10-year-old rape victim an abortion is just another example in a long history that continues this election season.
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The far right is pitting God against women. Mike Huckabee's support for the decision to deny a 10-year-old rape victim an abortion is just another example in a long history that continues this election season.

At Fox News' Republican Presidential debate in Cleveland, Jeb Bush boasted that, informed by his faith, he "defunded planned parenthood and created a culture of life in my state." When Megyn Kelly asked Scott Walker if he would "really let a mother die rather than have an abortion," he refused to temper his position that there should be no exceptions to his "pro-life" position.

Ted Cruz professed "God speaks to me every day through the scriptures and this informs my position on religious liberty, life, and marriage." And Marco Rubio argued that even in the case of rape, women should not have the ability to make choices about their pregnancies. Sadly, such proclamations ignore individual rights, freedom of religion, and the fact that faith as a guiding principle can be dangerous when the foundational teachings of social justice are ignored.

In an effort to create a "moral" society, women's health and welfare are nothing more than political pawns for too many Republicans. The supposed secular nature of the nation aside, the parameters of the pro-life conversation are severely limited in scope. Claiming they are focused on protecting life in the name of God, such views ignore the interconnection between such legislation and poverty rates. Politicians who brag about defunding Planned Parenthood ignore that nearly all federal funding received by the organization goes to contraception and other essential health services. Under Jeb Bush's "culture of life," Florida became one of the worst states for women's health and wellbeing in the nation. Sr. Joan Chittister has explained these political notions are pro-birth; little attention is given to what becomes of children once they are born or to the women who have given birth.

Even Joe Biden, who acknowledged that his Catholic values - particularly in relation to reproductive health -- should not be forced upon other Americans, fails to recognize that Catholicism supports the wellbeing of women. Reproductive health is a social justice issue and refusal to grant access perpetuates the oppression of women.

Perhaps Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said it best: "Reproductive freedom is in a sorry situation in the United States. Poor women don't have choice."

It is no coincidence that the viable female candidate running for president, who also identifies as Christian, insists on prioritizing women's rights. Hillary Clinton is campaigning hard on supporting funding for Planned Parenthood and recognizes the connection between legislation supporting reproductive health and tackling poverty issues plaguing women in the US.

Reproductive health is not the only women's issue threatened by the right wing. The lack of paid maternity leave in the US is connected to the patriarchal idea that women's roles are in the home, a notion reinforced by conservative religious ideals. Additionally, the fact that women continue to be underpaid, and salaries decrease for a woman with each child she births, are also directly connected to misogynistic conceptions of gender roles.

Lack of access to reproductive health, low wages, and limited access to childcare and maternity leave are major contributors to women being the most impoverished group in the nation. The inability for right wing politicians to make these connections and understand how their misguided notions of religious ideals play into the perpetuation of these issues is highly problematic and puts women, especially underprivileged women, in this country at serious risk. The result? Women's rights continue to be diminished in favor of intolerance, ignorance, and supposed religious values.

This outcome is not only unacceptable for American women in the twenty-first century; it is also repugnant to feminists of faith who have done the hard work of showing that Christian and other patriarchal religions do not, in fact, require anti-woman readings or the policies that flow from them. It's worth considering: If compelling pro-woman readings of religious texts exist, why would anyone choose to embrace those that result in our oppression?

The issues women are facing in the 2016 election are not new. With a majority of candidates being white, male, and Christian, the presidential race continues to be a platform to marginalize women based on misinterpreted Christian ideals. It's time for Republicans to understand once and for all that they cannot ride our oppression all the way to the White House. Anyone who attempts to do so should be ashamed. And defeated.

It's 2015 in America. Women have no intention of returning to Biblical times.

This piece was co-authored by Gina-Messina-Dysert, Jennifer Zobair, and Amy Levin, who are co-editors of Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay.