How America's 'War on Women' is being waged

7 June 2012

The War on Women is not an American import Australia wants or deserves, writes Leola Reis.
The War on Women is not an American import Australia wants or deserves, writes Leola Reis.

As momentum builds in a US Presidential election year, a Sydney Ideas panel this Friday looks towards the United States, and what has been dubbed a 'War on Women'.

Women's issues are emerging as a key campaign issue. Recent legislation in conservative states points to an attack on women that goes well beyond the usual issues of abortion and birth control to call into question basic freedoms, such as access to health care, the right to equal pay for equal work, and protection from domestic violence.

In this opinion piece below, a key note speaker at this week's Sydney Ideas panel, Leola Reis from Planned Parenthood in the US, writes about some of the recent developments in the US. The full version of this piece will appear on The Drum opinion website tomorrow.

How the War on Women is being waged

By Leola Reis, Planned Parenthood (US)

Like Coke, Nike, Hollywood films and fast food, the US has many exports. As a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood - the oldest, largest and most trusted reproductive health provider in the US - I have one key message to Australians during my visit here: beware we don't export the war that is currently being waged on women in my country.

Over two million women come to us for contraception each year in America. Every day, we strive to maintain services but it's getting harder. There is a War on Women and policy makers have increased their reckless attacks. Organisations such as ours are fighting this war with everything we've got. And it is something Australia should be mindful of.

A new Arizona law allows employers that offer employee health insurance plans to demand proof that, if employees use birth control, it is for a reason other than preventing pregnancies. As part of their campaign against the Obama administration's birth-control mandate, Roman Catholic organisations filed lawsuits challenging the rule that their employees would be covered for contraception in their health-insurance policies.

Sadly, limiting abortion access in America has now become a legislative preoccupation. In Virginia, a bill was introduced that would require women to undergo a trans vaginal ultrasound at least 24 hours before having an abortion as part of their informed consent. The idea of a mandatory, invasive and medically unnecessary procedure for something legal incensed the fair minded of the nation and provided fodder for late night TV comedians.

A bill in Kansas will require doctors to tell women seeking abortions that the procedure will increase their risk of breast cancer — even though the science refutes this claim. Threats to both abortion and birth control also come in the form of legislative efforts to establish personhood from the moment of fertilisation. Some common birth control methods prevent implantation and, under personhood, could become illegal.

Birth control is basic health care and most women use it at some point in their lives. The benefits of planning and spacing pregnancies are undeniable, improving women's health, children's health and the opportunity for women to get an education and join the workforce. Globally, 215 million women want to plan their births but lack access to modern contraception.

Abortion was made legal in the US in 1973 because it was a public health issue. Hospitals across the country had wards filled with women with septic infections, or dying because of illegal procedures. The data shows that when abortion is illegal, it does not reduce the number of abortions but it does increase the number of women who die.

Law makers should be focused on increasing access to preventive health care like birth control and cancer screenings and not on regulating and limiting access to abortion services. If they would work with organisations like ours on prevention initiatives, we would have better health outcomes in America.

I encourage you to be watchful of policies in Australia that emulate those in America. The War on Women is not an import the women of your country want or deserve.

Leola Reis is Vice President of External Affairs for Planned Parenthood in the US an affiliate of International Planned Parenthood Federation that consists of more than 149 Member Associations including those in Australia, working in more than 189 countries.

Event details

What: The US's War on Women: rhetoric, politics, and discrimination, a Sydney Ideas forum co-presented with the Writing Hub, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

When: 4pm, Friday 8 June

Where: Foyer, New Law Building, Camperdown Campus. See map and directions

Cost: This event is free and open to all, with no ticket or booking required. Seating is unreserved and entry is on a first come, first served basis.

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