From the bedroom to the ballot box

By Amy Fried,
Posted Feb. 28, 2012, at 12:18 p.m.

Perhaps a certain state legislator now wishes he had studied the classics.

In the 2,400 year old play Lysistrata, the women of Athens tried to affect men’s political decisions by refusing to sleep with them. With parallels to that ancient Greek drama, a Virginia state legislator, Republican Delegate Dave Albo, found his wife uninterested in his amorous entreaties after seeing a news clip.

What Albo’s wife saw was a report on a bill requiring some women seeking abortion to have a sonogram with an internal probe. Speaking at the Virginia legislature, Albo sadly announced that the legislature’s doings impinged on his most personal activities and could “make sure there is one less Republican in this world.”

While the women of Lysistrata couldn’t vote, today’s American women can — and their (and men’s) voices on this and related issues will go beyond the bedroom to the ballot box.

An indication that pro-reproductive rights forces would be heard from this year came about a month ago, when Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced that it would be dropping a grant to Planned Parenthood. This decision came after hiring a vice president who had run for office in Georgia, promising to cut Planned Parenthood. Public reaction was swift and intense, leading to this individual’s resignation and a change in policy.

In Virginia, the rationale for the sonograms was said to involve informed consent, but this rang hollow. Of what did women seeking abortions need to be informed? These women know that they are pregnant. No law should force them to have and pay for a medically unnecessary procedure.

After the Obama administration faced criticism for requiring that insurance offered to employees of Catholic hospitals include free birth control, it responded with a compromise acceptable to the Catholic Hospital Association, Catholic Charities and insurance companies. Refuting those who compared the policy to requiring Jewish delis to serve pork, religious leader Rabbi David Saperstein held this analogy “fails to distinguish for-profit consumer relationships from employer-employee relations.” Just as employers can’t prevent employees from buying certain foods, they shouldn’t be able to control portions of their health insurance packages, especially when these decrease medical costs.

Surely it’s striking that nearly five decades since the Supreme Court ruled states couldn’t restrict contraception, some politicians criticize birth control itself. Rick Santorum said it is “harmful to women” and pledged to address “the dangers of contraception” if elected president. Candidate Santorum also decried coverage of prenatal testing.

Evidence suggests that these issues hurt Republican candidates. As the birth control issue has arisen, women increasingly see Romney less favorably. Sixty-one percent of Americans support mandating contraception coverage for groups affiliated with religious groups, including 61 percent of Catholics. Women especially support the policy, with 66 percent in favor.

Governor LePage recognized these are not good issues for Republicans. In an interview at the National Governors Association, which received national publicity for LePage’s call for a “fresh face” to be picked as the presidential nominee at the Republican National Convention, the governor refused to be drawn into a discussion about contraception.

But in the last Republican debate, candidates not only strongly criticized the Obama administration’s policy, but tied birth control to a lack of morality. Mitt Romney said, “This isn’t an argument about contraceptives, this is a discussion about, are we going to have a nation which preserves the foundation of the nation, which is the family, or are we not?”

On birth control pills, Ron Paul said, “But sort of along the line of the pills creating immorality, I don’t see it that way. I think the immorality creates the problem of wanting to use the pills. So you don’t blame the pills.”

In a time when birth control is widely practiced by people of all religions, this is indeed a time to review the classics — not only Lysistrata, but also Homer’s words from the “The Odyssey.” Ulysses, who wandered for a decade after the Trojan War ended, “suffered much … but do what he might he could not save his men, for they perished through their own sheer folly.”

Should Republicans continue on this policy path, they will detour down a road taking them away from most citizens.

Amy Fried is a professor of political science at the University of Maine. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/ASFried and on her blog, pollways.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/02/28/opinion/from-the-bedroom-to-the-ballot-box/ printed on July 24, 2014