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Letter: Fighting for Women’s Rights

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

It is time to pay attention to the serious threats to women’s rights that are taking place in our state and across the nation. At stake are fundamental liberties that affect everyone, not just women.

At least 39 state legislatures in recent session and the US Congress have proposed laws restricting women's basic health care rights. Among them:

*Allowing employers to fire women who use contraception.

*Denying insurance coverage for contraception.

*Requiring doctors to lie to women about established medical facts.

*Prohibiting malpractice suits against doctors who lie to women about the health of a fetus.

*Forcing women to carry a fetus to term even if it will be stillborn or threatens the mother's health.

*Requiring women to have invasive, medically unnecessary procedures which they have to pay for out of pocket.

*Criminalizing miscarriage and abortion.

*Taking funding away from organizations that provide the full range of health services to poor women.

*"Personhood" legislation that elevates the rights of a single cell over that of existing human beings.

This isn’t about abortion. Many of these measures were written specifically to coerce, humiliate and discourage women considering an abortion. But they go much further than that. They restrict a woman’s choice or control in becoming pregnant. They restrict how pregnant women must behave. They force women and physicians to ignore medical reality, putting life and liberty at risk.

The pushback against basic rights isn’t stopping there. The conversation in the public arena has taken on a very ugly, very anti-women tone. It's not just Rush Limbaugh calling a Georgetown law student a "slut." It's the Idaho lawmaker who said that women are not able to tell if they have "really" been raped. It's the Georgia lawmaker who compared women giving birth to "cows and pigs." It’s the Wisconsin lawmaker who thinks abused wives should "remember why they got married in the first place." It's the Virginia lawmaker who couldn't bring himself to say the word "vagina" but was happy to mock women’s concerns (and his own wife) in a suggestive speech at the state Assembly.

Yes, Virginia, it's happening here. On March 3, 2012, there was a peaceful rally held in Richmond to protest the Virginia ultrasound bill. There were over 1,000 demonstrators of all ages. Babies, children in strollers, parents and grandparents. There was nothing threatening about the crowd. No demonstrator carried so much as a stick. How do I know? I was there. I saw the massive police presence that included riot police and dogs. Thirty people were arrested and handcuffed for simply sitting on the steps of the Capitol. They were kept cuffed with their hands behind their backs -- some of them for over seven hours, on hot buses with no access to water, toilets, or legal counsel. The state plans to prosecute them and they may face jail time.

What all this adds up to is a systematic attack on women, and on men who care about women. Those of us who marched for women’s equality in the 60s and 70s are relearning the lesson that our rights and our freedoms have to be fought for again and again. As a mother of four daughters, it’s a bitter reality to face that my children are still not considered equal in our society.

Thankfully, more and more people are becoming aware of what’s going on, and are trying to do something about it:

Women’s rights rallies will be held in 50 states and the District of Columbia on Saturday, April 28 sponsored by the grassroots women’s group Unite Women (http://www.wearewomenmarch.net/). The rallies are open to everyone. Those who can’t attend can still help by donating to the group to defray the costs of permits, insurance, and security.

Concerned Virginians have formed the Women’s Strike Force (http://www.womensstrikeforce.org/), a PAC created with the goal of defeating in the next election the Virginia legislators who promoted the most recent anti-women legislation in the state Assembly.

I hope that those who read this will take the time to learn more about these issues, and will join in taking action and in donating to these two groups. If not us, who will do it? And if not now, when?

Ann Aoki

McLean