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Cynthia Neely Republican-style Sharia law denies women basic rights

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Cynthia Neely

Posted: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 12:00 am

One of the ironies of Republican political ideology is the paradox that poses their ardent enthusiasm for smaller government and less governmental intrusion into our lives, against their unceasing desire to pass laws to control our personal lives, thereby actually increasing the size of government and initiating legislation that permits government to invade our bedrooms as well as our person.

During the 2010 election, one Republican nominee raised the specter of "Sharia law," alleging that this Islamic law was being practiced in the United States. That actuality was quickly exposed as untrue, but Sharia law did inspire some concern, even though it is not strictly understood.

According to some, Sharia is not actually "law," but is a collection of ancient religious moralistic and often harsh principles which regulate personal and moral conduct. Muslim countries do not enforce this code uniformly. In some countries there is unequal treatment of women in inheritance, dress and independence. In some remote tribal areas, cruel punishments such as amputations and stoning are still practiced.

A realistic concern is whether, in this country, we are seeing a renewal of unequal treatment of women that was rejected decades ago, or whether we are now seeing a new set of rules for women, that is, Sharia Law — Republican-style.

During our early history, many laws promoted unequal treatment of women. Laws prevented women from owning property, making contracts, or even bringing lawsuits. In 1848, New York passed a law giving property rights to women, although it took decades for other states to adopt a version of this law. In the 1870s, U.S. courts overruled the common-law principle that a husband had the right to "physically chastise an errant wife."

In the 1800s, laws in the U.S. prohibited birth control. In 1873, Congress passed a law outlawing the dissemination of birth control devices or information through the mail. In 1916, Margaret Sanger, a strong supporter of birth control, served a 30-day sentence in a workhouse for opening a birth control clinic.

By the 1950s and 1960s, many states had legalized birth control, and in 1965 the Supreme Court found that prohibiting birth control violated the right of privacy, because it allowed the police to search the bedroom of a married couple to look for evidence of birth control.

We recently had Republican presidential hopefuls seeming to want to go back to the "bad old days" where women were deprived of the availability of birth control, resulting in women having more children than they could care for or, in many cases, could afford. (In the 1800s, the average woman gave birth seven times.) Clearly this restriction caused an increase in the number of abortions, which Republicans say they want to prevent.

Birth control statistics reveal that 98 percent of Catholic women have used birth control, even though their religion forbids the use of contraceptives. One in five women have used the resources of Planned Parenthood for contraception advice.

In a hearing on birth control in the House of Representatives, only men were witnesses and one woman was prevented from appearing before the all-male panel by Republican Chair Issa.

Former presidential hopeful Rick Santorum says that birth control "is not okay."

Even though birth control advice and support is provided by Planned Parenthood, which actually prevents countless abortions, Presidential candidate Mitt Romney says of Planned Parenthood, "I will get rid of it." He, along with Speaker of the House John Boehner, support the Blunt Amendment, which would permit employers to deny health insurance coverage to employees on the basis of their (the employer's) moral objections.

Republican hot-air merchant Rush Limbaugh called the woman who was not permitted to testify in the birth control hearing a "slut" and a "prostitute." Incredibly, not one Republican presidential candidate condemned the attacks on the Georgetown law student who was so vilified by Limbaugh.

Then there are the states in which Republican legislators have introduced, and in some cases have passed, laws making decisions on women's health that should be left to women and their physicians.

The Texas legislature defunded Planned Parenthood, cutting off health care — including breast cancer screening to 60,000 women. In Arizona, health care plans can refuse reimbursement for birth control drugs unless a woman can prove that she is taking them for medical reasons (acne, etc.) and not for birth control. Coverage can also be denied if the employer does so on religious grounds.

Another issue affecting women is emergency contraception, which can prevent pregnancy when taken shortly after unprotected sex. Eight states restrict emergency contraception even in cases of rape or incest. Six allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense contraceptives, and two allow pharmacies to refuse to do so.

In Kentucky, Virginia, Wisconsin and Texas, a woman is required to have a medically unnecessary ultrasound 24 hours before an abortion. In Virginia, the proposed law required doctors to perform this procedure before an abortion even in instances of rape or incest. When the law requires a doctor to violate a woman with a medical instrument, this gives an entirely new meaning to statutory rape.

Lost in all of this rhetoric concerning birth control is the fact that birth control is not an issue that only affects women. Family planning is an issue central to both men and women in their relationships.

During the passage of the Affordable Health Care Act, Republicans carped constantly that this law would be an infringement on the sacred doctor/patient relationship. In reality, however, they continue to place politicians squarely between a doctor and his or her patient.

Rick Santorum's billionaire backer Foster Friess tried to make light of the birth control issue by saying that women should just do what they used to, put an aspirin between their knees. However, women are not laughing. They are tired of politicians dictating how they should live their lives.

Unfortunately, it appears that Republicans believe that corporations are people, but women aren't. But they should recognize one major difference: women vote.

Cynthia Neely of Lodi is a retired city attorney.

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