Until recently, I never bought into claims that Republicans were waging a "war on women." It seemed to sell the GOP short. Republicans didn't hate women, I figured: They hated everyone who makes less than $250,000 a year.
Now, I'm not so sure.
Exhibit A is the ginned-up furor over a new Obama administration policy requiring employers to cover birth control in their insurance policies — even if the employer is affiliated with a church that opposed contraception. When Catholic hierarchs complained, Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt leapt into action. Under the "Blunt Amendment," employers could decline to cover any treatment if it was not "consistent with their ... moral convictions."
The Senate barely defeated that measure, 51-48, last week. Republicans who backed it, like Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey, asserted that their primary concern was religious liberty. Toomey said it was necessary to "protect faith-based institutions from being forced to violate their rights of conscience." (Pennsylvania's other senator, Bob Casey, was one of just three Democrats to support the amendment.)
Actually, despite Toomey's rhetoric, the Blunt Amendment would not have applied solely to "faith-based institutions," or to contraception. It would allow any employer to refuse covering any treatment for moral reasons. If your boss happened to be a Christian Scientist, presumably, he could opt out of providing health insurance at all.
But Republican brains, like those of horny teen-age males, cloud over at the very thought of sexually active women. Suddenly this was about "forcing employers to pay for sex," and protecting personal morality. Blunt's amendment invoked Jefferson, decrying policies that might "infringe on the rights of conscience of insurers [as well as] individual or institutional health-care providers."
It's a refreshing change, no doubt, to hear Republicans extol individual freedom. If only they were serious.
But even as the Blunt Amendment was being pondered in Congress, Republicans in Harrisburg were seeking to compel doctors to carry out procedures many of them ethically oppose: mandatory, and highly intrusive ultrasounds for women seeking an abortion.
Under Pennsylvania's HB 1077, any woman seeking an abortion would be required to have an ultrasound — using a probe inserted inside the woman's vagina — with the screen positioned "so that the patient is able to view the ultrasound test in its entirety, with a view of her unborn child." ("The patient is not required to view the screen," HB 1077 declares in a chivalrous aside.) It's all done under the guise of "informing" the woman about the condition of the fetus ... whether she wants the information or not.
After being approved by a Republican-led House committee, HB 1077 is idling in Harrisburg, thanks to national outcry over a similar bill in Virginia. But consider the GOP's double standard. The tender scruples of Catholic bishops must be respected, lest the saints weep. But a woman seeking an abortion? It's OK to violate her wishes, and those of her doctor.
Apparently, once a woman has sex — or even discusses it — many leading Republicans believe she's forfeited her right to be treated with any dignity at all. Witness Rush Limbaugh's response to Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student who testified before Congress against the Blunt Amendment. For her pains, Fluke was denounced by Limbaugh, for three days before an audience of millions, as a "slut" and a "prostitute."
The response from leading Republicans has been ... well, you'd need an ultrasound to detect it. You might expect someone like Pennsylvania's own Rick Santorum to call Limbaugh out. During his presidential run, Santorum has portrayed himself as a defender of women. He recently told ABC News' George Stephanopolous, for example, that "Hollywood culture" was demeaning stay-at-home moms by telling them, "the only thing that's affirming ... is what you do at work."
So how did Santorum respond to Limbaugh's attacks on Sandra Fluke? By telling CNN that Limbaugh was "being absurd" ... and then adding, "you know, an entertainer can be absurd."
So for those keeping score: Erin Brockovich is an assault on the very fabric of society. But calling a law student a whore? It's all in good fun!
Republican legislators insist we shouldn't be forced to pay for things that shock our conscience. Fair enough. How do I get a refund on the tax dollars I've paid toward their salaries?