GOP's Sexist Mad Men Worldview Threatens Women's Health

With "personhood" acts, ultrasound requirements, and the Blunt Amendment, the GOP assaults women's health.

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LAKEWOOD, COLO.—The new season of Mad Men is upon us, but my mother, a fan of PBS and quality television, still can't bring herself watch it. Mad Men brings back too many bad memories for her of a time when women were second-class citizens, belittled on a daily basis. Many Republicans, on the other hand, seem to view Mad Men and its ritual humiliation of women as an instructive documentary. The Republican presidential field is in a race to the bottom on who can most obnoxiously turn back the clock to the pre-Griswold 1965. House Republicans don't think women are qualified to testify on their own healthcare.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Catholic contraception controversy.]

This week brings us the Senate hearings on the Blunt Amendment, which would allow any employer to deny healthcare coverage because of "moral objections." There's some question as to whether women will actually get to testify this time, or just patted on the head and allowed to fetch coffee. And if the amendment actually goes anywhere, I can't wait for the first meeting of Women CEOs Against Viagra.

And in the states, it's even worse. Utah House Republicans just passed a bill allowing state schools to opt out of sex ed and mandating those that keep it refrain from any mention of contraception. Nationwide, state legislators have introduced a slew of "personhood" measures that would ban hormonal contraception and ultrasound bills designed to shame women into changing their mind. And let's be clear: these bills aren't designed to "inform" women. They're designed to punish them.

The tide of public opinion— or perhaps his own political ambitions—finally persuaded Gov. Bob McDonnell that Virginia's internal ultrasound bill was a bad idea. But this month, the threat in Virginia became reality in Texas when its ultrasound law took effect. Furthermore, Texas just threw 130,000 poor women off of a healthcare program and the state is 50th in women getting prenatal care in the first trimester. So the only "healthcare" poor women get in Texas is a medically unnecessary procedure and a lecture from a complete stranger if they choose to get an abortion because they couldn't get contraception or prenatal care.

[See a collection of political cartoons on healthcare.]

Here in Colorado, Attorney General John Suthers has signed on to a letter with 11 other Republican AGs objecting to the contraception coverage requirement under the Affordable Care Act, even though state law already requires insurers cover birth control. Apparently Suthers doesn’t think the opinions of thousands of Colorado women who voted no with more than 70 percent margins on two anticontraception 'personhood' measures count for much.

And Republicans wonder why they're losing the women's vote. Much of the Republican argument seems predicated on the same judgmental discrimination at the root of the Komen debacle, as noted by my U.S. News colleague Susan Milligan: good girl healthcare vs. bad girl healthcare. Good girls get breast cancer. Bad girls get birth control.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican party.]

Here's a clue: Reproductive healthcare is healthcare, and contraception is an economic issue, especially when you're usually the one determining what to use and how to pay for it. There is no more basic financial decision than determining the size of your own family. And no amount of public humiliation will alter a woman's decision—in the words of the sage Lyle Lovett, "There's nothing as resolute as a woman when she's already made up her mind."

I'm still able to fit into one of my mother's beautiful vintage dresses from the Mad Men era and in fact have worn it to several costume parties. But much as I love the clothes, I have no desire to return to raw sexism of that era, and neither do most women—a concept Republicans increasingly seem unable to grasp.

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