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Activists rally in support of Planned Parenthood and women's reproductive rights at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on April 7, 2011. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

The Lowlights of 2011’s ‘War on Women’

With a new Congress in office, battles over reproductive healthcare access came back with a vengeance.

BY Sady Doyle

In Mississippi, anti-choice advocates introduced a "personhood amendment" that would give fertilized ova the status of "persons."

Early this year, in response to a wave of anti-choice and anti-reproductive health legislation, pro-choice advocates began talking about a new War On Women. In fact, it was a war on many people, and many things: Choice, contraceptive access, dignity, and common sense all ranked high on the list of targets. But as the year draws to a close, it’s worth considering a few of the most notable battles waged in the name of restricting people’s access to reproductive justice, and where we stand today.

The battle of rape redefinition

In January, John Boehner’s Congress indicated its highly practical, jobs-focused priorities by almost immediately introducing a bill to restrict abortion access: HR 3, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.” This bill was related to jobs primarily in that it denied tax credits to businesses that provided insurance plans that covered abortions, and in fact, taxpayer funding for abortions was already restricted under the Hyde Amendment. HR3 would have narrowed the rape and incest exemptions within Hyde, applying them only to victims who had been “forcibly raped.” Nick Baumann at Mother Jones broke the news of the “forcible rape” language, and a wave of protest followed.

NICK BAUMANN, Mother Jones: What we saw in early 2011 was some of the same people who fought the culture war battles of the early 1990s refighting them on a new stage. Remember, the rape and incest exceptions to the Hyde Amendment were pushed through with social conservative support as part of their successful effort to avert a total repeal of the Hyde Amendment… Ever since then, social conservatives have been trying to narrow those exceptions. The “redefining rape” measure was part of that effort.

OUTCOME: The “forcible rape” language was removed, but HR3 itself passed the House. There was good news this week related to how the government defines rape, however: After pressure from feminist activists, the FBI is changing its own definition of rape, which was narrow, relied uncomfortably on the idea of force, and hadn’t been updated since 1929.

The battle of Planned Parenthood

In early February, anti-choice activist and “aspiring actress” Lila Rose arranged a hidden-camera “sting” of Planned Parenthood. Her organization, Live Action, apparently doctored the resulting audio; the results sounded incriminating. Meanwhile, in accordance with the highly theatrical whims of Rose, the right wing mobilized to defund Planned Parenthood, because all legislative priorities should be influenced by people who do odd, unpleasant street theater. Next up: A bill on campaign finance reform, sponsored by that guy who used to dance with a mannequin in the subway.

STEPH HEROLD, @iamdrtiller: “These politicians want to re-criminalize abortion, and if they think taking away access to birth control, pap smears, pre-natal care, and Well Woman exams is the way to do it, they’ll go for it. This also puts Planned Parenthood in the awkward position of having to defend themselves for providing basic healthcare and distance themselves from abortion, which is really unfortunate, and re-stigmatizes abortion.”

OUTCOME: A bill to defund Planned Parenthood was rejected by the Senate in March, but the fight continues at the state level. Six states defunded Planned Parenthood in 2011.

The battles for blatant ridiculousness

Aside from these nationwide battles, there have been several fights at the state level which deserve your time, attention, and incredulous laughter: In Georgia, Representative Bobby Franklin introduced a bill that would classify abortion as “prenatal murder” and investigate any miscarriage for evidence of “human involvement,” which led to his office receiving unsolicited photos of tampons and used menstrual pads.

In Mississippi, anti-choice advocates introduced a “personhood amendment” that would give fertilized ova the status of “persons” and thereby potentially ban birth control and (again) criminalize miscarriages; this was defeated. In Ohio, anti-choice advocates moved to ban abortion after the point at which a fetal heartbeat could be detected – sometimes as little as four weeks into the pregnancy–and called actual fetuses to “testify” (read: to have heartbeats).

That fight, despite all reason, is still ongoing.

OUTCOME: When fetuses are allowed to testify, everyone loses. Unfortunately, we were unable to interview any fetuses for this section of the article.

The battle for the future

And so that, in part, was 2011: A few wins, and a lot of stalemates. And, recently, one important loss: The loss of the right to provide emergency contraception over the counter, regardless of the purchaser’s age.

To end the year on such a loss does not seem to bode well for 2012, where many of these fights will no doubt continue, and new battles will have to be fought. So I asked some pro-choice advocates and journalists for their thoughts on the future. Look away now if you want a happy ending.

Amanda Marcotte, Pandagon: “[The] war on contraception is probably the most significant development. This is the year that anti-choicers really took it to the next level. They mostly lost this year. They didn’t get Planned Parenthood’s contraception subsidies cut. They lost the fight to keep contraception off the list of preventive services. But they did win the fight to keep Plan B from being sold over-the-counter with no age restrictions. My concern is that their steady drumbeat of anti-contraception freakouts will eventually make contraception ‘controversial’ in the way that abortion is, justifying ‘compromises’ that restrict access.”

Eesha Pandit, advocate and blogger: “The bans on race and sex selective abortion have been particularly insidious. They came during a year in which billboards have gone up all over the country, in Illinois, Missouri, Florida, Texas, California, Tennessee and many other states, attacking Black and Latina women who choose to have abortions… [The] Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2009, reintroduced a couple of weeks ago by Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, is a perfect example of the kinds of things we’ll see next year. Anti-choice activists and legislators think they’ve hit on a winning formula of divisive identity politics.”

Nick Baumann: “One really interesting thing about this year was that most of the anti-abortion rights measures that passed or were considered in the House had no chance of becoming law… there’s certainly a case to be made that social conservatives overreached – their legislative push certainly got reproductive rights groups and their allies fired up.”

OUTCOME: See you next year.

Sady Doyle is an In These Times Staff Writer. She also contributes regularly to Rookie Magazine, and was the founder of the blog Tiger Beatdown. She's the winner of the first Women's Media Center Social Media Award. She's interested in women in pop culture, women creating pop culture, reproductive rights, and women's relationship to the Internet and the Left. You can follow her on Twitter at @sadydoyle, or e-mail her at sady inthesetimes.com.

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