By Aaron Blevins, 5/17/2012
Panel Outlines Response to Attacks on Women’s Rights
Women make up 51 percent of the population, yet they’re increasingly on the frontlines of the battlefield, as governmental bodies introduce or alter policies that limit their access to healthcare and tread on their reproductive freedoms.
That conflict was the basis of an educational program hosted by the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles (NCJW/LA) on Wednesday, titled “War on Women”. Panelists included Los Angeles Times columnist Sandy Banks, actress and women’s rights advocate Tyne Daly, ACLU attorney Maggie Crosby, California National Organization for Women Action vice president Linda Long, Planned Parenthood Los Angeles director of public affairs Serena Josel, and Kaya Masler, a student-activist at USC.
Of the war on women’s many combat zones, the most alarming may be issues surrounding contraception, Crosby said. In the past, the Catholic Church has resented efforts to enforce state laws that require contraceptives be included in employee health plans. That issue has once again been raised by the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which requires employers, including most religious nonprofits, to provide insurance that covers birth control.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has rejected the mandate and attempts by the Obama administration to reach a compromise. Crosby said the organization cites religious reasons in their rejections.
“And I am here to tell you that that is absolutely false. …Unfortunately, it’s the politics of the war on women,” she said.
Crosby alluded to a reluctance to give women complete control of their reproductive freedoms, which was evidenced by Josel’s statement that state legislatures last year introduced 1,100 “anti-women’s health bills.” More than 900 have been introduced this year, she said.
“The war on women is much more than a war on abortion,” Josel said.
She said many states have made it difficult for low-income women to receive birth control, and eight states have completely de-funded Planned Parenthood, which is sometimes the only resource for low-income families to get necessary health services.
“Those real lives are what’s important,” Josel said, adding that activists can sometimes get caught up in the politics of it all.
Long said the war on women exists in California, and it’s being waged by Republicans and Democrats alike. She denounced the proposed elimination of the state’s Commission on the Status of Women and the Office of Women’s Health.
“We were having a lot of success,” Long said. “Then, evidently, we were having too much success.”
Josel said the lack of Democratic support was evidenced in a recent trip to Mississippi, in which two gubernatorial candidates supported an initiative that would ban abortion and birth control.
“We don’t have a strong allegiance to women’s health,” she said.
Long presented another example. She said a recent bill outlawing methyl iodide, which is used on strawberries but can cause miscarriages in six or seven months, didn’t pass, even though the Democrats have a majority. Long said some female lawmakers voted against the bill.
“It’s disgusting that there are women in California who didn’t vote against methyl iodide,” she added.
Banks, as moderator, asked whether society is post-racial and post-gender. She also questioned whether these issues should be categorized as “human issues.”
Daly said she ran into this issue while working in television. Producers wanted to refer to her show as a women’s show, effectively eliminating 49 percent of her audience. She believes that the categories maintain a flawed status structure, but openly wondered whether the rest of society was up to speed.
“I don’t know if that’s practical right now,” Daly said.
Crosby suggested that women speak up more regarding their reproductive options and healthcare needs. She said a friend of hers wrote a blog post on Mother’s Day that explained her abortion.
“More of us have to do [things like] that,” Crosby said.
Josel suggested that some people do not understand the consequences of some legislation because they don’t understand procreation. During her business trips, she’s encountered many people who don’t have conversations about sex because they are uncomfortable.
“Sex is everywhere, but meaningful conversations about sex are nowhere,” Josel added.
Long said that, if the government looks at legislation from a gender-neutral position, women will be eliminated from such policy. Women’s healthcare needs are different, and in the hands of males, they’ll be ignored, she said.
The panel also discussed how to mobilize and act. Banks said women must lobby beyond their own constituency and spread awareness of reproductive freedom and healthcare accessibility.
“We need to engage beyond women,” she said. “Every man has a mother.”
Josel suggested that women activists steer away from “bumper sticker speak.” That includes terms like “pro-choice” and “pro-life” — “as if anybody is anti-life,” she said. Josel referenced her boss’ ongoing pregnancy and their discussions about the baby.
“She doesn’t call it a fetus, and it would be weird if she did,” she said.
Masler said young women are paying attention to such issues, but they are reluctant to call themselves feminists, for fear of alienating male friends. While young women need to be engaged as well, there are plenty at USC who are ready for action, she said.
“We’re proud to be here, and we are angry,” Masler said.
Ruth Williams, NCJW/LA’s director of advocacy, said the program aimed to educate the audience on the efforts to discriminate against women by conservative, faith-based groups and public officials.
“Women’s rights are under attack at unprecedented levels,” Williams said in a statement. “The ‘war on women’ is real and will only get worse.”