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Warning: Republicans May Be Dangerous to Women's Health and Safety

The social conservative wing of the Republican Party has also long contained a strong strain of hostility to sex for purposes other than procreation and a fear of women being able to control their bodies without the dominance of men.
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The social conservative wing of the Republican Party has also long contained a strong strain of hostility to sex for purposes other than procreation and a fear of women being able to control their bodies without the dominance of men.

As the GOP rushes headlong to the extreme right in order to satisfy its base primary voters, that strain is now manifesting itself in the mainstream of the Republican Party as active hostility to protecting the basic health of women, particularly in areas that have anything to do with reproduction.

Republicans are now transforming themselves into a party that is dangerous to the health and safety of American women.

The fight over whether Catholic institutions that hire non-Catholics and serve the general public like universities and hospitals must follow the general law and provide contraception under their employee health plans -- which should have been resolved by President Obama's compromise that the insurance companies and not the Catholic employers would provide it -- is just the tip of the iceberg.

• All 8 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was first enacted in 1994 with bipartisan support and was last reauthorized in 2005 by unanimous consent in the Senate and with 415 votes in the House and signed by George W. Bush. VAWA is aimed at improving criminal justice and community-based responses to domestic violence, date rape, sexual assault and stalking. Although some Senate Republicans like Mike Crapo of Idaho did co-sponsor the bill, all 8 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee voted no. Among other things, the Republicans wanted to defund the Office on Violence Against Women in the Justice Department, and objected to provisions which extended the protection of the Act to gays and lesbians, and provided protection to abused women who are illegal immigrants to come forward. Apparently Senate Republicans don't believe that gays, lesbians and illegal immigrant women who are raped or sexually assaulted deserve the protection of VAWA.

• Under a new law passed by the Virginia State Legislature, and expected to be signed by Republican Governor Bob McDonnell (a contender for the Republican vice presidential nomination), women who want to have a legal abortion will be required to have a transvaginal ultrasound in which a probe is inserted into the vagina, legally forcing a woman to be penetrated for no medical reason. A Republican lawmaker justified this on the grounds that women had already made the decision to be "vaginally penetrated when they got pregnant." The law is almost certainly unconstitutional as an "undue burden" on women's rights, but that hasn't stopped Virginia Republicans from passing it.

• From 1976 until this year, there has been a de facto bipartisan truce between anti-abortion and pro-choice supporters in Congress under which taxpayer dollars could not be used for abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or when the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother. 173 House Republicans co-sponsored a bill that would drastically redefine "rape" and "incest". Incest wouldn't be included in the exemption unless the girl is under 18. The definition of "rape" would be limited to "forcible rape." Rapes in which women are drugged, or given large amounts of alcohol, rapes of women with diminished mental capacity, and many date rapes wouldn't be covered. Nor would statutory rape -- so a 30-year-old man having sex with a 12 year old girl wouldn't count. This attempt by the Republican House to redefine rape downward stands in stark contrast to Democratic Attorney General Eric Holder's recent announcement of an expanded definition of rape in the Uniform Crime Report to mean "the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetrations by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim". Faced with a firestorm of pressure, the House GOP eventually decided to remove the forcible rape redefinition from the bill, but that doesn't take away from their initial impulse to include it.

Moreover, it may come as a shock to many women that in 2012, their access to birth control should become a political issue in the Republican primary. But as recently as 1965, 30 states outlawed or limited the right to use birth control. In that year, the Supreme Court overturned such laws in the case of Griswold vs. Connecticut which held that the Constitution implies a right of privacy which prohibits states from interfering with the right of married people (later extended to all people) to use birth control in the privacy of their bedroom.

One of the leading Republican presidential contenders, Rick Santorum, has stated that contraception is "not okay. It's a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be." Moreover, Santorum told ABC's Jake Tapper that the Supreme Court was wrong in Griswold and states should have a right to ban birth control.

Mitt Romney, the supposed moderate in the Republican race, is not far behind Santorum when it comes to a woman's right to contraception. ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked Romney, "Do you believe that states have a right to ban contraception? Or is it trumped by a constitutional right to privacy." Romney evaded the question, responding "I don't know whether a state has a right to ban contraception." Romney -- like Barack Obama a graduate of Harvard Law School -- would have learned the Griswold case in Constitutional Law 101, so he was being ingenuous.

More recently, Romney has started calling certain birth control pills "abortive pills," joining Michele Bachmann in denouncing Plan B "morning after" pills as abortion. But Romney is just joining Bachmann in her ignorance. The Plan B pill is not an "abortion pill" or an "abortive pill" and the label on its package already warns pregnant women not to take it because "if you're already pregnant, it won't work." The Plan B pill uses the same active ingredients as regular birth control pills and works in the same way as regular birth control pills by preventing the implantation of an egg in the uterus. So if Romney thinks that Plans B pills cause abortions -- which he now opposes -- then he must also be opposed to ordinary birth control pills.

Put aside whether you're anti-abortion or pro-choice -- many people have good faith and strongly held disagreements on abortion. But recent Republican attacks on a woman's right to obtain contraception, on laws protecting against violence on women, Republican-backed legislation to require women seeking legal abortions to have medically unnecessary ultrasounds which penetrate the vagina, and Republican attempts to redefine "rape" as only including forcible rape, should raise serious concerns that the GOP is becoming dangerous to the health and safety of American women.

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