On Sunday John McCain came onto Fox news and urged Republicans to leave abortion discussions “alone.” He stated that the Republican party needs to ‘have a bigger tent’ remarking: “There is no doubt whatsoever that the demographics are not on our side.” This was proved this election when extreme pro-life candidates like Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana, both of whom made offensive remarks when discussing rape exemptions, were defeated by Democrats. When Fox host Chris Wallace asked McCain if that meant he would support “freedom of choice” he stated that “As far as young women are concerned, absolutely, I don’t think anybody like me — I can state my position on abortion but, other than that, leave the issue alone…”
Yesterday The Irish Times reported on the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, who was denied a potentially lifesaving abortion, which she requested after being told by physicians she was having a miscarriage and that her fetus had no chance of survival. The 31 year old dentist was 17 weeks pregnant when she sought treatment at University Hospital Galway on Oct. 21, complaining of severe back pain. According to her husband Praveen Halappanavar, she was told that it would be illegal to abort while the fetus’s heart was still beating: “The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Although Savita [a Hindu] replied that she was ‘neither Irish nor Catholic’ they said there was nothing they could do.
Unfortunately, the doctor’s hands were tied. As the New York Times reported:
“In 1992, the Irish Supreme Court ruled that abortion was permissible in cases where there was a “real and substantial risk” to the life of a pregnant woman — including the possibility of suicide. But 20 years later, the Irish government has still not passed a law to this effect.”
This tragedy has already sparked debate over abortion laws in Ireland. Thousands of protesters have marched in Belfast, London, Dublin, Cork and Galway, hoping to force the Irish government to stop dragging their feet on this important issue. For people living in the US, Halappanavar’s death illustrates the frightening reality we face if legislation protecting women’s right to choose is reversed.
As Democrats push to reinstate the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, Republicans argue that the introduction of the measure comes at a very convenient time. As the New York Times reports, “The legislation would continue existing grant programs to local law enforcement and battered women shelters, but would expand efforts to reach Indian tribes and rural areas. It would increase the availability of free legal assistance to victims of domestic violence, extend the definition of violence against women to include stalking, and provide training for civil and criminal court personnel to deal with families with a history of violence. It would also allow more battered illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas, and would include same-sex couples in programs for domestic violence. ” Republicans, however, argue that the expansion of whom the measure protects weakens the protection of the originally intended beneficiaries. Moreover, contend conservatives, Democrats have chosen a politically charged moment to push the Violence Against Women Agenda -having just suffered in the contraception debate.
It had to be brought up here. How could it not be brought up here? After Georgetown University Law student, Sandra Fluke, spoke about the negative impact that the Catholic university’s insurance policies have on women’s access to contraceptives, Rush Limbaugh went too far -even for Rush Limbaugh. Said the conservative radio talk show host about Fluke’s call for substantive access to contraception for GU’s students:
“What does that make her?…It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.”
Not only is Limbaugh clearly uninformed about the realities of oral contraceptives, he alters the course of the conversation entirely. The argument moves away from the conflict between a public health issue and the Catholic stance that any contraception is immoral, to an abrasive attack on women’s sexuality altogether. Let us temporarily dismiss the fact that women use The Pill for medical reasons other than the prevention of pregnancy -including the prevention of uterine and ovarian cancers and the regulation of menstrual cycles. Even if one ignores these facts, it would seem that Limbaugh’s argument against allowing women access to birth control punishes female sexuality, while allowing men frequent -if unprotected -sexual intercourse. Women are seen as having “so much sex that they can’t afford contraception,” which effectively suggests that women alone should be responsible for securing contraceptives. This line of thinking suggests that oral contraceptives are the only option for the prevention of pregnancy -essentially leaving men out of the conversation altogether.