The Science of Lady Parts and the GOP

Last Thursday, Republican Representative and Tea Party favorite, Joe Walsh (R-Ill), told reporters that when it comes to abortion, “there’s no such exception as life of the mother” because of “advances in science and technology.” This astounding claim was news to the medical community.

Walsh joins the ranks of some other prominent Republican men who don’t understand basic lady parts science: Representative Todd Akin (R-MO), who claimed that pregnancy from “legitimate rape” is “really rare” because “the female body has ways to shut the whole thing down,” and conservative comedian Rush Limbaugh, who doesn’t understand the basics of birth control pills. (He thinks you take a pill every time you have sex!)

These remarks would be humorous if it weren’t for the fact that these men are part of a broader effort by the extreme wing of the Republican Party to take aim at women’s reproductive health.

At the state level, Republican lawmakers enacted a record number of anti-abortion measures in 2011, four times as many as the previous year. A study from the Guttmacher Institute shows that legislators in 45 state capitals introduced 944 provisions to limit women’s reproductive health and rights in the first three months of 2012. These states are proposing/passing abortion ultrasound requirements, gestational limits, health insurance exemptions for contraception coverage, and stringent limitations on medical abortions.

The Guttmacher Institute, 2012

In the past two years, 19 states have introduced bills modeled on a Nebraska law that bans abortion 20 weeks after fertilization. The Oklahoma State Senate redefined “person” as starting at conception, while the Mississippi House approved a bill requiring women who want an abortion to undergo an examination to determine if there is a fetal heartbeat. Texas and Virginia require women to undergo an ultrasound prior to receiving an abortion, and many other states have similar proposals underway. Texas recently cut reproductive services for 130,000 poor women.  As this chart from NARAL indicates, twice as many states passed anti-choice laws in 2011 than in 2010.

NARAL, 2012

At the federal level, in 2010, the newly elected House Republican majority was quick to propose major cuts to reproductive health services. They made several attempts to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, the largest family planning provider in the U.S. that has been around for a century. They also tried to gut Title X, a program that funds family planning and preventive breast and cervical cancer screenings. Both proposals were stopped by Senate Democrats. Ironically, on the same day that House Republicans tried to eliminate Title X funding, Representative Dan Burton (R-IN) proposed contraceptive funding for wild horses (!)

Congressional Republicans also proposed an amendment to the health care bill that allows federally funded hospitals to turn away women in need of an abortion to save their lives. This is by far the most brazen attack on the “mother’s health” exception to restrictions on abortions. In May of 2012, Republicans proposed a veto on sex-selective abortions that failed to pass the House, despite broad Republican support for the bill. And in early 2012, Republicans in Congress held hearings on whether the new health care law should include contraception coverage. These hearings included virtually no female experts, so House Democrats held more inclusive hearings that (gasp) included women. Limbaugh assailed one hearing participant, Georgetown student Sandra Fluke, calling her a “slut” and a “prostitute.”

Prominent conservatives, including Republican Party leadership, have roundly dismissed the assertion that the party is engaged in a War on Women, but the recent flurry of legislation curbing reproductive freedoms tells a different story. Given baffling comments from the likes of Walsh, Akin, and Limbaugh, the generals in this War on Women obviously need to include lady parts science as part of basic training.

Rush Limbaugh’s 20 Year War on Women

After Rush Limbaugh called Georgetown law school student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” for believing that insurance should cover the cost of birth control, pundits on the right and left quickly pointed out that liberal media figures have also used sexist slurs.

I have perhaps written more than anyone about the use of sexist slurs by prominent men on the left lobbed at Sarah Palin, Laura Ingraham, Hillary Clinton, and Michele Bachmann. But to lump Chris Matthews, Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann, or Ed Schultz in with the likes of Limbaugh downplays the veracity of Limbaugh’s very long and very public hatred of women.

Limbaugh has spent two decades attacking feminists, female political leaders, professional women, women who speak out, and women’s gains more generally. This formula makes his almost exclusively older, white, male audience feel more powerful in a world where changing gender roles have challenged non-meritorious power structures that benefit them.

Bashing Feminists

Limbaugh popularized the term “feminazi,” which aligns feminists – those who believe in the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes, and who started the anti-domestic violence and anti-child sexual abuse movements – with the most notoriously violent regime of the last century. Back in 1992, Limbaugh appeared on the Phil Donohue Show to discuss feminazi trading cards.

Limbaugh has repeatedly said that feminism “was established to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream.” His favorite pastime is to attack the National Organization For Women, and in October of 2010, he called them “a bunch of whores to liberalism.”

In 2010, Limbaugh defended his decision to judge the Miss American Pageant, claiming that he loves women and is a huge supporter of the women’s movement, “especially when walking behind it.”

Bashing Female Political Leaders

Limbaugh regularly attacks Hillary Clinton in sexist ways, referring to her “testicle lockbox,” calling her a “lyin ass bitch,” questioning whether Americans want an older female president, and saying she “reminds men of the worst characteristics of women they’ve encountered over their life: totally controlling, not soft and cuddly.”  Limbaugh also referred to 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton as a “dog.”

Limbaugh often makes derisive comments about Michelle Obama’s weight and said the presidential limo “weights eight tons” without the First Lady in it.  In October of 2011, Limbaugh said that “there are plenty of lard-ass women in politics” who “get a pass on every aspect of their appearance.” But they don’t get a pass from Limbaugh who makes his living insulting the physical appearance of women in power.

In this segment, Limbaugh rants against Supreme Court justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, claiming that they’re unqualified and essentially stupid.

Bashing Professional Women

In Limbaugh’s teenage fantasy world, female journalists are “info babes” and “anchorettes.” He even suggested that many women would be “flattered to be hired as eye candy.” Limbaugh believes the media, politics, and unions are under the constant threat of “chickification” from which “nothing good can come.”

Bashing Women who Speak Out

In line with the Fluke fiasco, Limbaugh seems particularly keen on attacking women who speak out. In 2011, he joked that the women who accused Herman Cain of sexual harassment appeared together because “they want to synchronize their menstrual periods.”

Just last week, when race car driver Danica Patrick told a reporter that the government should make decisions concerning contraception coverage, Limbaugh used an ad hominem attack to berate her: “What do you expect from a woman driver?”

Bashing Women’s Progress

Limbaugh is highly critical of the gains women have made in American society in recent decades. In 2009, he stated that “everybody knows it was the vacuum cleaner that liberated women more than the pill.” In his defense, Limbaugh may have said this because he doesn’t understand how the pill works.

In Limbaugh’s mind, women live longer lives because they have it easier than men. In 2006, Limbaugh compared his cat to women: “Once I feed her, guess what? She’s off until the next time she gets hungry. And she doesn’t have to do anything for it, which is why I say this cat has taught me more about women than anything in my whole life.”

In Limbaugh’s world, women are conniving bimbos. He told Sandra Fluke, “If we are going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex…we want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”

For Rush Limbaugh, then, women in positions of power or those who speak out on behalf of themselves or other women are to be ridiculed and derided. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, he was identified as the most trusted news personality in the nation in a 2008 Zogby poll.

Given his 20 year war on women, it’s not at all shocking that Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke these sexist slurs. What is shocking is that the American public has finally taken notice.