The 'Mad Men' of the GOP

Clearly there are issues that stir the passions of conservatives, which bring them to their feet. But it's not the recession or unemployment numbers. Suddenly it's all about women's health and their right to choose, meaning contraception and abortion. It's 1950 all over again and Republicans are resurrecting the culture wars, specifically those much-debated topics that many assumed were long ago settled. The question is, why? Why would the Republican Party dash into a cul-de-sac of rigid ideology regarding women's rights and therein conduct a campaign that seems so decidedly, well, anti-women?

Their actions raise the question of whether this conservative "war against women's health" is just about health, or reflects an enduring culture of conservative misogyny and a long-simmering resistance by the right to decades of struggle by women for equality, empowerment and the freedom to make choices not only about their bodies but about their lives.

What has been revealed in recent weeks by conservative state legislators and governors as well as the titular head of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, is that their views are far broader in scope, seeming attitudinal. How else to explain Limbaugh (married four times) characterizing women who have advocated for contraceptives to be covered by their health plans as wanting to be paid to have sex, making them, in his words, "sluts" and "prostitutes." At one point Limbaugh suggested that if he and the "taxpayers" were going to pay for these women's birth control (which they're not; insurance companies are), then these same women should post online videos of their sexual activity so he and his ilk can watch. A stunning, revelatory suggestion. A Rorschach of sorts.

This view of women as property, as second-class citizens, child-like, as vessels for procreation are made manifest not only by Limbaugh but by many Republican legislators who have devised some of the most invasive procedures imaginable. Not for themselves (a prostate exam prior to being prescribed Viagra?) certainly, but for women, subverting at every turn a woman's right to make a profoundly difficult and personal existential choice.

To contemplate the following all but requires a suspension of disbelief: Texas, with the full support of Republican Gov. Rick Perry, recently passed a law that requires a woman wanting to have an abortion to undergo a transvaginal probe ultrasound. She is required to listen to the heartbeat of the fetus (if one can be detected) and watch the image on a screen. She must sign a statement of understanding, and is then sent home to wait 24 hours before being granted the option of an abortion.

A similar ultrasound law is being contemplated in some 20 other states. Virginia, after statewide protests, abandoned the transvaginal probe requirement but still mandated an external ultrasound for every woman wanting an abortion with no opt out provision, turning, like Texas, the concept of informed consent into an ideological and prophylactic weapon.

The Mad Men of the GOP, those conservative legislators who hold their copies of the Constitution near and dear, seem willing to violate the civil rights of women while subverting the First, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The right to privacy, if not overtly expressed in the Constitution, has withstood the challenges of almost a century. In 1891, the courts found, "No right is more sacred or is more carefully guarded by common law than the right of every individual to the possession and control of his own person. To compel anyone, and especially a woman, to lay bare the body, or to submit it to the touch of a stranger "… is an indignity, an assault and a trespass "…"

For the state to compel a woman to submit to a transvaginal or external sonogram assumes that a woman cannot formulate informed consent in consultation with her physician. It places government squarely between a patient and her doctor — the Republicans' criticism of the Affordable Healthcare Act. It is also profoundly demeaning and infantilizing.

The Mad Men of the GOP, denizens of the circular firing squad, still yearn to live in a time when the glass ceiling was made of Plexiglas, when women were objects of control, relegated to a subservient class. They yearn for a time when they could meet behind closed doors, absent vociferous protest, and make decisions for women, no matter how deeply personal or life-altering those decisions might be, such as choosing to avail themselves of services offered by, say, Planned Parenthood (a familiar target of conservatives).

What these Republican legislators and governors, buttressed by conservative talk radio, fail to understand is that it's back to the future, like it or not, and women now have full suffrage and they've been paying very close attention.

Chris Honoré lives in Ashland.

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