The New Scarlet Letter

Rush Limbaugh fans beware – Rita gets political again in this dispatch and she’s madder ‘n hell…

I’ve had some female medical problems lately, so I did what any respectable American woman would in these times. I consulted my local congressman. Before seeing my doctor I want to be sure I’m not doing anything illegal, or improper, or, God forbid, anything to expose me to public scorn and shaming. I don’t want to end up emblazoned with the scarlet letter S for “slut.”

At this point I should explain that, if you thought you were reading the beginning of a fictional piece set in the era of The Scarlet Letter, you are mistaken. Unlikely as it may seem, this is the world of American women in the 21st century. It’s been creeping up on us stealthily, but it burst into the limelight last week when Ayatollah Rush Viagra-Poppin’ Limbaugh unleashed a three day tirade of vile invective against a demure young woman, Sandra Fluke, who dared to speak out on a women’s health issue. In doing so he outright lied about what she had said and the issue she addressed, namely that health insurance policies should include coverage for birth control pills. She did not talk about her sex life or anyone else’s sex life. She pointed out that many women need the pills, not for birth control, but to treat other serious, painful conditions that can sometimes, ironically, lead to infertility. Limbaugh spun his usual web of lies and distortions claiming that she wanted the taxpayers to pay for her overactive sex life. Suffice it to say that he used far more graphic language.

This episode brought to a boil what had been simmering away in the Republican primary campaign for months, as the candidates veered extreme right on the social issues that are catnip to the party’s evangelical base. It is no longer enough to be against abortion in all circumstances, now true conservatives must also oppose contraception! Pope Sanctorum I, the current conservative idol, crisscrosses the country promising that as president he will preach on the evils of contraception and sex for pleasure, even in marriage. One of his campaign financiers suggested that “gals” should just put aspirin between their knees. This jihad on women gathered force in 2010 when Republicans, in a campaign dominated by concern about jobs, the economy, and the national debt, took control of the House of Representatives and state legislatures across the country. Then they promptly forgot about jobs and began introducing laws, over 1100 in all, restricting women’s access to health care. Not only abortions, but also contraception, cancer screenings, and other services provided by Planned Parenthood. All these measures will impact poor and low-income women the most, the ones least able to support large numbers of children. Republicans seem to be unaware of the simple logic that if women have access to birth control there will be far fewer abortions. Never mind the blatant hypocrisy of a party that advocates getting government out of people’s lives also pushing for government to take control of the most intimate part of women’s bodies.

American women find themselves sucked into a time warp and spat out somewhere on the far, far side of the 1950’s. The following scenario could actually take place today somewhere in America:

A married couple walks into a pharmacy. She has a prescription for contraceptives and he has a prescription for Viagra. The pharmacist refuses to fill the woman’s prescription because doing so would violate his religious conscience. He fills the man’s prescription with no problem.

She returns the next week with a prescription for the morning after pill, and again the pharmacist refuses to fill it. (Yes she could go to another pharmacy, but in some rural areas that could be a prohibitive distance away). Then she learns she is pregnant. She and her husband can’t afford another baby – they already have three children and he just lost his job. What do they do now?

As I spin this story further I am tempted to make the pharmacist experience “an erection lasting more than four hours” when he takes his own Viagra, as the ads warn. This will necessitate some nasty, painful emergency treatment. But at least he’ll have no trouble getting his meds.

Yes, American women everywhere are fantasizing revenge scenarios. In many states now women are faced with a barrage of requirements before they can have an abortion. These include watching videos about fetal development, listening to the heartbeat, and, most egregiously, undergoing ultrasounds, all when they have already made the difficult decision for themselves. The measure that provoked the most recent outcry was introduced in Virginia, an attempt to require women to undergo invasive vaginal probe ultrasounds. This inspired creative women lawmakers to come up with some bills of their own. In Ohio State Senator Nina Turner introduced a bill that would require men to present an affidavit from a sex partner and undergo psychological testing before they can obtain erectile dysfunction drugs. “The side effects of these drugs are very real” she explained, “I want to protect fragile men who are vulnerable and are not able to make decisions for themselves.” Elsewhere women are proposing rectal exams, cardiac stress tests and, most ominously, watching a video about the treatment for an erection lasting more than four hours. There are also attempts to outlaw vasectomies because they lead to sex without the purpose of procreation and prevent babies being born. Of course none of these bills will pass, but they are getting people talking and highlighting the absurd inequities.

Who could have predicted that in 2012 the main issue in the presidential campaign, for a while at least, would be contraception? But with the economy showing signs of improvement at last, what else do the Republicans have to talk about? Oh yes, the other issue roiling conservative circles is the grave threat of Sharia Law in the United States. But they could lose that argument too as their own behavior towards women becomes more and more like that of the Taliban. Perhaps Ms. Fluke could have avoided her scarlet letter if she had worn a burkha to the Congressional hearing.

Rita Byrne Tull is an ex-pat librarian who lives in Maryland.

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Rita Byrne Tull is an ex-pat librarian who lives in Maryland.

13 thoughts on “The New Scarlet Letter

  1. Gaw
    March 14, 2012 at 09:57

    I note adultery and divorce don’t feature as big no-noes for the moral conservatives. No mystery there!

      Hey Skipper
      March 14, 2012 at 10:16

      Wherever did you get that idea?

    Hey Skipper
    March 14, 2012 at 10:16

    She pointed out that many women need the pills, not for birth control, but to treat other serious, painful conditions that can sometimes, ironically, lead to infertility.

    Which is precisely not the point in question, and has absolutely nothing to do with the point Limbaugh made, no matter how inelegantly, which is this: why should people who do not use contraception subsidize those who do?

    Santorum’s argument is similarly mangled practically beyond recognition. To clarify, the point he made was that the availability of cheap and extremely reliable contraception has not been an unalloyed good for society.

    Now, you may argue (as I would) that the gain in personal freedom vastly outweighs the undeniable social costs. But to pretend they aren’t there is folly, and hammering Santorum for pointing them out amounts to almost epic denial.

    This sentence really captures the essence of misapprehension: Republicans seem to be unaware of the simple logic that if women have access to birth control, there will be fewer abortions.

    In comparison to, say, 1960, women have completely unfettered access to birth control.

    Since then, abortion has skyrocketed.


      March 16, 2012 at 03:17

      How are people subsidizing birth control users? Are you saying that our insurance premiums are subsidizing birth control? I would rather subsidize birth control than Botox.

  3. Worm
    March 14, 2012 at 10:42

    amazing that the 102 Puritans on the Mayflower still have a large influence on the country’s political culture nearly 400 years later

    March 14, 2012 at 13:11

    The Republican candidates do seem at this distance to be an unprecedently useless bunch, but surely it’s overstating it to suggest there’s some sort of gender war a-comin’?

    This “conservativer-than-thou” thing is just to get through the nomination process, isn’t it – after which it can be ditched in favour of sanity when going for President? A tiresome consquence of the strange system.

    The polarisation of US political ‘debate’ is so horrible. Both sides reach for the hysteria button without pause for a moment’s thought. ‘Obama is a commie’ is absurd, but surely so is the idea of a ‘jihad against women’?

    March 14, 2012 at 15:28

    You’ve lost me Rita. This is just hyperbole. It would be nice to see that those calling this a “jihad on women” – Really? I mean, really? – were equally as quick to call out the Bill Mahers of this world as they call Palin a “c**t” and “dumb tw*t”, and the foul sexual epithets directed at the likes of Bachmann and Coulter by those with access to a microphone and a broadcaster.

    I am no fan of any of those three women and in the end political discourse can get heated, but the level of offence taken on behalf of someone, Fluke, who was clearly trying to provoke a response like this, is farcical.

    March 14, 2012 at 17:00

    Note also that Fluke posited some bizarre financial statistics about the costs of contraception that just do not hold water for longer than, oh, 0.3 seconds. The whole thing was a clever distraction from the row that blew up after Obama mandated that Catholic & other religious institutions should pay for contraceptives and abortifacients for their employees which very obviously contradicts freedom of conscience, regardless of what you think of the assorted religious edicts issued by the aforementioned religious institutions.

    Limbaugh handed the Democrats a gift, but as Recusant indicates, it hasn’t exactly worked out all that well due to the screaming hypocrisy of most “liberals” on misogynistic speech. David Axelrod, close adviser to BO just backed out of an appearance on Maher’s show, though Obama’s Super PAC is yet to hand back the $1 million he gave them- even though the president is apparently so concerned about demure young ladies receiving sexist abuse that he called fluke personally.

    NB, assorted septuagenarian feminists & professional activists, allegedly also “liberals” then called for Limbaugh to be barred from the airwaves or even prosecuted under obscure 19th century laws related to protecting a lady’s reputation. So if the Republicans want to go back to the 50s, Gloria Allred is willing to go back much farther (when it suits her). Because, of course, nothing says “progressive” like calling for blacklisting and speech prosecutions.

    If there is a jihad in the US, it is against the honest, calm and measured discussion of issues.

    John Halliwell
    March 14, 2012 at 18:01

    ‘In desperate attempt to win female vote, Sanctorum offers US men free masterclass in sensitive tit-fondling’

    Sorry. I saw that photo at top of post and thought it was a caption contest.

    Rita Byrne Tull
    March 14, 2012 at 18:33

    I notice all the comments are by men (as far as I can tell). Just sayin’ – where are all the Dabbler women?

      March 14, 2012 at 23:12

      Rita, you can do better than that. I thought the point was to ignore the gender and concentrate on the arguments presented. Or was that a different form of feminism?

    Joan Byrne
    March 16, 2012 at 03:28

    The women are all shaking in their boots at the thought of going back to the 70’s or worse. How about a law that requires all men to participate in the Vagina Monologues. It may help improve understanding between us.

    March 27, 2012 at 23:15

    Yes, it all seemed to stem from requiring health insurance to cover contraceptives. Then the outcry from Religious organizations that said that they don’t approve of contraception. Well, if their employees feel the same way, then there won’t be any contraception claims posted against the insurance. However, they employ people with different religious beliefs who do accept contraception.

    Take this to the extreme – what other religious businesses can block certain coverages by their health insurance? Jehovas Witnesses don’t allow blood transfusions. Scientologists don’t believe in psychological care. Well, Christian Scientists would have nothing to worry about, they only believe in the power of prayer so there’s not going to be any health insurance coverage there.

    However, under the equal opportunity act, you can’t deny employment to a qualified applicant based on race, gender, or religion.

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