Today marks the first day of Women's History Month, and the usual practice is to spend March celebrating the American women who led the way toward progress and the everyday heroines who've made a lasting difference in our communities. It's a chance to reflect on how far we've come in the fight for women's equal rights and to resolve to put those final metaphorical cracks in the glass ceilings that still exist.
But two prominent Republicans and possible vice presidential picks, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, have instead chosen to mark the occasion by declaring all-out war on women's health.
Let's start with Rubio. Women—and men—across the country breathed a collective sigh of relief today when the Democratic-controlled Senate voted to table the Blunt-Rubio amendment in a 51–48 vote. This legislation would have allowed any employer to deny a woman coverage for birth control and other medical services they find "morally objectionable."
Why is it that Rubio and his fellow Republicans don't find it morally objectionable to deny 20 million women medical services that could save their lives? Why should a woman's employer get final say on whether she can get a mammogram, cervical cancer screening, domestic violence counseling, or the contraception she needs to reduce the risk of certain cancers and infections? And why is this even a question that our elected officials are debating in the 21st century?
It's easy to think we dodged a bullet on this one after today's vote, but consider this: Just yesterday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney came out in full support of Blunt-Rubio. If he were elected president, you can be sure that ultraconservative senators like Rubio would seize the opportunity to put access to contraception and women's preventive care in the hands of employers—and to put a bill on Romney's desk for rubber stamping. This is a battle that's far from over.
Take Virginia, for example. Just last week, women's health advocates thought they'd succeeded in getting Gov. McDonnell to back down from a state law that would force women to submit to an invasive transvaginal ultrasound before they could get an abortion. McDonnell even said that "mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state. No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure."
But yesterday, the Virginia Senate passed a revised bill that seems likely to be signed into law, and version 2.0 is no improvement. With a hard-won exception for victims of rape and incest, a standard ultrasound is still mandated. Virginia women will have to pay for the ultrasound out of pocket, and they're not cheap: $300 to $1,200. There's a required 24-hour waiting period that would be difficult for many working women to arrange. And the transvaginal option is still open: Early in the pregnancy, you can't see a fetus with a standard ultrasound, and remember, under the law, an ultrasound would be mandatory.
To add insult to injury, even the women who miscarry late in a pregnancy and require the fetus medically removed from the uterus would be forced to endure the agony of an ultrasound.
Virginia women should rightly be outraged. Their governor, however, says he is "pleased."
So let's dedicate this Women's History Month to standing up for women's rights and women's health in the face of unprecedented assault from the GOP, and let's call out Republican politicians like Rubio and McDonnell, who are putting their disgraceful politics before the well-being of American women. And if one of these men ends up a vice presidential nominee, it's up to us to let America know exactly who we're dealing with.