The widening war on women

Samantha Katsounas

Lately, women’s rights that were secured decades ago are being challenged, something the New York Times has labeled “The War on Women.” For women in Texas, that war is coming closer to home.

Last week, a federal appeals court issued immediate approval of a Texas bill that opponents say will significantly restrict the right of women to obtain abortion services. The “sonogram bill,” passed during last year’s legislative session, would require health care providers to perform a sonogram on women seeking an abortion. The sonogram must be performed even if the woman does not want it and even if her doctor does not find it medically necessary.

The controversial piece of legislation elicited widely diverging reactions. While one sponsor, state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, praised the bill as “empowering” women, state Rep. Carol Alvorado, D-Houston, asserted that it essentially “[tells] women that they are not smart enough to make the big decisions about their lives and their bodies.” The Texas Medical Association also opposed the measure, citing its interference in doctor-patient relationships.

In August, Federal District Judge Sam Sparks blocked the bill, writing in his strongly worded opinion that the bill forces “physicians to deliver politically motivated communications to women, regardless of their wishes.” Sparks appropriately noted the “ironic” hypocrisy of legislators who simultaneously decry government involvement in health care while defending the duty of the state to intervene in reproductive health.

Edith Jones, chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, overruled Sparks’ decision. Jones, formerly the general counsel for the Republican Party of Texas, specifically approved the mandate to allow for women who change their mind regarding abortion procedures. This stance plays into the idea that a woman doesn’t really know what she wants in relation to her own health, an idea espoused by Patrick.

Women under 25 — mainly college-aged women — comprise a majority of those who obtain abortions. These young women are old enough to vote, drive a car and sign legal documents. Moreover, they are old enough to request a sonogram if they choose under current law. Removing free choice in favor of a state-imposed mandate on women’s health cannot possibly leave women feeling “empowered.” Implying that women of this age are too ignorant to know the consequences without state intervention projects upon them an impressive and unlikely lack of intelligence.

The imposition of a mandated sonogram isn’t the only looming threat to women’s rights. Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney has explicitly called to “eliminate” Title X, a federal social program that provides, among many services, contraception, breast and cervical cancer screenings and testing for HIV and STDs to low-income women. To be clear, none of these services are a danger to the life of an unborn child. In contrast, these services are crucial to college-aged women who often do not have the resources to obtain them otherwise. Women’s health is being compromised solely because of a perceived, yet unsubstantiated, threat to “family values.”

This “war on women” is more than just legislation. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., one of the most powerful women in Congress, famously said that she studied tax law because her husband suggested it, quoting the Bible verse that women “are to be submissive to their husbands.” Do we, as female students, want to choose our careers this way? This dangerous rhetoric, combined with misogynistic legislation, only serves to reintroduce to college women their formerly discarded status as powerless subordinates who are incapable of making their own decisions.

This idea of the fragile young woman — one easily manipulated, one unqualified to make decisions about her own body and future — is distinctly anti-feminist and downright dangerous. If women’s rights are regressing instead of progressing, it will become increasingly rare for young women to feel they are able to make progressive decisions about their own futures.

Contrary to what Patrick and Jones believe, the restriction of health rights directly contributes to a decline in a woman’s sense of empowerment. A patronizing, intimidating political agenda is the last way to encourage young women to strive for success. Not only do these policies endanger women’s rights, they endanger women’s lives.

Katsounas is a government and finance sophomore.