2012: The Year the G.O.P. Jumped the Shark: Lady Parts Edition

| August 29, 2012 | 7 Comments

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Sunday, Monday, happy days / Tuesday, Wednesday, happy days / Thursday, Friday, happy days / The weekend comes / My cycle hums / Ready to race to you…

The theme song from Happy Days has been playing inside my head a lot recently. For anyone born after 1980, Happy Days was a hit sitcom in the 1970s that offered a nostalgic interpretation of 1950s America. It took place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and centered around clean-cut teenager, Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard), and his family. Richie’s good friend was Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler) who was curiously tough for his small size, and drew women to him, literally, with a snap.

No doubt, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney would give their eye teeth to have Fonzie’s effect on female voters this November. Romney’s VP pick, Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin boy himself, certainly sent some women swooning in the first days following his addition to the ticket. The piercing blue eyes, the serious hair, the P90x physique, and the devoted family man image are hard to ignore, to be sure. Little more than a week after the announcement, however, Ryan was on the receiving end of a female firestorm the likes of which hasn’t been seen since thrice-divorced family values expert and Bovine-American Rush Limbaugh called law student, Sandra Fluke a slut for speaking in favor of insurance coverage for birth control pills.

So what exactly caused the sudden disenchantment with Ryan? The hubbub was over Ryan’s connection and shared views with Missouri Representative Todd Akin — you know, Mr. “Legitimate” Rape? Akin and Ryan have cosponsored eight anti-choice bills in Congress; one of them (HR 212) gives fertilized eggs the same constitutional rights as people. This “Sanctity of Life Bill” would thereby render many birth control methods illegal, as well as criminalize in vitro fertilization since embryos are sometimes compromised in the process. Lest you think that Akin and Ryan acted alone, you should know that there are sixty-four cosponsors of this bill. All of them are Republican. And fifty-eight of them are men. Say what?

Goodbye grey sky, hello blue / There’s nothing can hold me when I hold you / Feels so right, it can’t be wrong / Rockin’ and rollin’ all week long.

In 1957, the average woman gave birth to 3.8 children. She was also a homemaker, or what we would today call a stay-at-home mom. After 1960, when the birth control pill was approved by the FDA for contraception, the average number of children per household began to fall. By 2011, that number dropped to two children born per average woman. Many mothers today work outside the home, sometimes by choice, but often by necessity, as the middle class cost of living has increased dramatically more than their salaries have over the past few decades. So what would happen if suddenly many forms of birth control were to become illegal? Hand over those IUDs and pills, ladies. It’s condoms, diaphragms or the rhythm method for you. Good luck! I hope your daycare offers a discount for siblings!

Mitt Romney has said that he is in support of overturning Roe v. Wade and letting states call the shots on abortion laws. If he is elected president and gets to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices, that is a very real possibility. The problem is that outlawing abortion won’t keep it from happening. It will only make it riskier.

In 1965, The National Center for Health Statistics cited 235 deaths reported from abortions that year. Of course the unreported number is likely much higher as abortion was not made legal until 1973.

Or just ask Romania. When the dictator, Nicolae Ceaucescsu came to power in 1965, his government outlawed abortion. The death rate for Romanian women having abortions rose 600 percent by 1982. In 1990, abortion was made legal again in Romania, and by 1996 the death rate had returned to pre-1965 levels.

Mitt Romney As The Fonze

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Legal abortion does not mean more abortions. In 2006,  Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, where abortion is legal, had an average rate among them of 6 abortions per 1,000 reproductive-aged women. In the United States that rate was 21 abortions per 1,000 reproductive-aged women. Meanwhile in places like the Dominican Republic, Peru, the Philippines and Uganda where abortion is illegal, abortion rates averaged 46 per 1,000 reproductive-aged women. The difference is education, and the availability of contraception. Outlawing abortion and limiting access to birth control will only serve to increase the number of abortions, as well as the number of women who will die from them.

One would think that alleged budget hawks like Romney and Ryan, who want to severely restrict entitlement programs, would see the pragmatism in granting more access to contraception — not less.

In 2000, 57 percent of abortions were for poor and low-income women. A total of 857,475 abortions were reported to the CDC in 2000, so that’s 488,761 additional children that would have required public assistance that year. Paul Ryan’s budget calls for a $46 billion cut in Medicaid, $36 million cut from food stamps, and drops 300,000 kids from the school lunch program. You do the math on how to support a growing number of children living in or near poverty with those numbers, because Ryan can’t, or won’t.

Paul Ryan’s disconnect from logic on this point is directly related to the two primary influences on his world view: The Catholic Church, and the author and self-styled philosopher, Ayn Rand. These two major influences could not be more antithetical. The Catholic Church is staunchly pro-life; against both abortion and contraception. However, the Catholic Church is also the largest charitable organization on the planet. Caring for the sick and the poor is paramount in the Church’s teachings. Meanwhile, Ayn Rand, whose Atlas Shrugged is required reading for Ryan’s staff members, was rabidly pro-choice and believed that there was no moral duty to help others; furthermore according to Objectivism (the Randian philosophy to which Ryan subscribes), altruism is actually a sign of weakness.

Unfortunately, and most confounding to many of us, is the result of the marriage of these conflicting viewpoints. All human life (no matter how few cells) is precious and must be saved without exception; until, of course, you are born and then you are on your own, kid. Get a job, little baby! Sadly, while Ryan is the poster boy, he certainly isn’t alone in this thinking. It pervades today’s Republican Party: forget the infant who requires Medicaid for basic medical care. All hail the zygote!

Make no mistake: No one is “pro-abortion.” We would all like to see the number of abortions drastically reduced, but we disagree on how to achieve that goal. Statistics have shown that outlawing abortion won’t make it go away, and it won’t even reduce it significantly. Education and readily available contraception will. And yet, Republicans are seeing to it that low income and uninsured women — those very women for whom an unplanned pregnancy could spell economic disaster — will not have contraception readily available to them.

Mitt Romney says that he will “get rid of” Planned Parenthood. Republican Congressmen have already attempted to defund Planned Parenthood, with H.R. 614. “Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act” which would prohibit any federal grants to be allocated to any entity that provides abortions. Never mind that in 2010, abortion services only comprised three percent of all that Planned Parenthood did. Defunding Planned Parenthood would deny millions of uninsured and under-insured women cancer screenings and preventative care, STD testing, contraception, and prenatal services. So between Romney’s promises to “get rid of” both Planned Parenthood and Obamacare, poor and lower income women and their children can look forward to a level of neglect unconscionable for an industrialized nation — let alone one that prides itself on being exceptional.

The clock is being turned back on women, and it is happening quickly. Women gained freedom in the 1960s with the advent of the birth control pill: they can delay having children until they are ready. With that reproductive freedom, women can have their own careers and thereby be financially independent. Planned Parenthood allows college women and women just starting off in their careers, the necessary health screenings and contraception they cannot yet afford on their own. It sets up young women to be able to compete in a man’s world.

In this recent power play by the right, women are being told that they won’t be making their own reproductive choices any more. Their options will be limited to what Big Daddy thinks is best. It’s a return to the fifties without the benefit of Eisenhower’s moderation or progressive vision.

Sunday, Monday, happy days / Tuesday, Wednesday, happy days / Thursday, Friday, happy days / Saturday, what a day / Groovin’ all week with you.

In the fifth season premiere episode of Happy Days, which aired in September 1977, the central characters visit Los Angeles. While at the beach, the Fonz decides to face his fear of sharks by jumping over one on water skis. He does this in his trademark black leather jacket and a pair of swim trunks. This absurd departure from previous seasons, which had featured more typically adolescent conundrums, signaled the beginning of the end for the show. As a result, the idiom “jumped the shark” was coined to indicate the point at which something has crossed the line into absurdity and is unable to fully recover.

At this close range, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when the Republican Party jumped the shark. For me personally, it was the nomination of George W. Bush in 2000. I had always halfheartedly voted Republican before, but his nomination over John McCain was an immediate deal breaker. After that, the Republicans seemed to lose their way as they veered and careened further right throughout the Bush presidency. Moderates got pushed out of the Party or forced to be silent while Evangelical Christians and later, the Tea Party, began to wrangle control.

However, nothing compares to the recent folly of trying to snatch back fifty years of female progress. Women will not tolerate old men, ignorant of simple biological facts, lecturing us about what we can and cannot do with our bodies. We will not cede legal control of our own reproductive health, because doing so makes us second class citizens. In a time when women are still only making 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, we cannot afford to go backwards. And we won’t.

This election is a desperate attempt by Republicans to regain control. The Party of Lincoln used to be a Big Tent party with enough room for people of many different backgrounds. But their recent exclusionary tactics of strict immigration reform and anti-gay legislation have positioned them as the Angry White People Party. They know that their majority is waning and that each election will be harder for them to win.

And now they want to mess with women? Come November, they will learn that was their biggest mistake yet.

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  1. Laurie Wolfe says:

    Thank you for such a brilliantly written, concise and spot-on piece. I’ll be sharing this far and wide…

  2. m says:

    Wonderful, and shared!

  3. Chrissy K. says:

    This was a fantastic article meant to awaken women to the not-so-subtle control/power struggle between women and the men who are extremely threatened by us. Well done! I can only hope that women will open their eyes to what is spelled out before us, because these shenanigans will only marginalize us even more. Let’s band together like the suffragettes and tell them Hell No!

  4. Fantastic article — spot on! I can’t understand how women can think a Romney/Ryan presidency would be in their best interest. Thank you for making that point loud and clear.

  5. Jen V. says:

    “Make no mistake: No one is “pro-abortion.” We would all like to see the number of abortions drastically reduced, but we disagree on how to achieve that goal.” So true, and yes, you’d think more conservatives would embrace a greater availability of contraceptives. I told this to a very conservative friend recently, who said “yes, but shutting your legs is free.” Meanwhile, plans continue to pay for grandpa’s viagra. I’m just…dumbfounded.

    • 65snake says:

      Outdated ideals of morality. Somehow, it is considered immoral for women to enjoy, or engage in, sex. Not that long ago, sex even within marriage was a woman’s duty, and they were not expected to enjoy it. Those who did (or admitted to it) were considered low and immoral.
      This double standard has been fundamental to western culture for centuries. Reinforced by religion and patriarchy, it is so entrenched that even today, in this supposedly enlightened time, women who openly enjoy sex are often viewed as having questionable morals (and not always by the “conservatives”) while men do not face this stigma at all, and are often elevated in their social group for their ability to attract and engage with multiple partners.
      Your friend’s response is a prime example of this social conditioning. It seems that she does not even consider the possibility that the woman in question might be married, and already have children…it is just assumed that if she needs birth control, she’s “loose” and should just be more “moral”.

  6. Sue G says:

    For many who think that women’s freedoms can’t go backwards- look at what happened in Iran after the revolution of 1979. Prior to the take over by the religious freaks (Islam or Christian-it matters not) women lived a modern and progressive life. Educated, smart, stylish, and free to pursue their dreams turned into a life living under burkas and complete restrictions on their lifestyle. Please look at this video of the beautiful Iranian’ women before religion took over their country.

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