Divorced from reality

One of the drawbacks of being involved in a war overseas is that while the citizens of our country have their eyes and hearts focused somewhere far away, domestic issues fall by the wayside.

Under the cover of the war on terrorism, the current administration is in the midst of enacting one of the sneakiest and most effective attacks on women’s rights.

Last Thursday, The Oregonian picked up the story of Shawna J. Hughes, 27, a Spokane woman who has been trying since last April to obtain a divorce from her abusive husband Carlos, who is currently serving time in Montana on unrelated charges.

For four days in October, Shawna was a legally divorced woman, until Judge Paul A. Bastine revoked the divorce because Shawna was pregnant.

Though Bastine admits that there is no law denying pregnant women divorces in Washington, he was quoted in The Oregonian saying, "The paramount right of the state and the obligation of the court, and in fact, probably the obligation of the parent as well, is to protect the legitimacy, the appropriateness of the child’s relationship to his or her parents."

This is despite the fact that Shawna’s husband has been know to abuse her, while pregnant, in front of her children, and is NOT the father of her unborn child.

In fact, Carlos has been known to become more violent with Shawna during her pregnancies.

It’s totally insane that Bastine would spout rhetoric about the rights of the child while obviously being unconcerned with the future safety of the child. What could possibly be the benefit of a known abuser having legal access to Shawna and the child for the next 18 years?

Clearly, in addition to being an illegal infringement of Shawna’s rights, this case is disturbing for many reasons.

First, it not only gives rights to a fetus, it values those rights above those of an independently living, breathing woman.

Second, the decision is reminiscent of other foul parts of U.S. history during which doctors forced sterilization on poor women and others deemed unfit for reproduction. Since Shawna receives public assistance, Bastine placed his argument within the context of child support. Both approaches rely on the idea that the state’s direct interest in and responsibility for any possible children gives it the right to control the woman’s body and reproduction through legal means.

A decision that attempts to control a women’s reproduction legally and a judge that makes decisions not based on the law, but on issues like "legitimacy" – which is transparently a religious and moral judgment, since children born in or out of wedlock in Washington are allotted by law the same rights – is disgusting.

Cases like these have been happening in Washington for a long time, but the Seattle-based Northwest Women’s Law Center says the numbers have increased recently.

This should be no surprise since the number of people in the U.S. who have taken the Bush administration’s adamantly religious and anti-woman sentiments to mean there’s a free-for-all on denying women their rights have grown astronomically in the past four years.

Take the examples of Julee Lacey and Melissa Kelley.

After a year of getting her birth control prescription filled at a pharmacy in Ft. Worth, Texas, Lacey was surprised when denied because the pharmacist personally did not believe in birth control.

Kelley was just as surprised in Pennsylvania when her gynecologist refused to renew her prescription because of personal beliefs, a decision supported also by Kelley’s primary physician.

Even scarier than this growing trend is that many states have "Conscience Clauses" that protect the rights of these fanatics to refuse the rights of women, and there is even a federal version that was enacted soon after the Roe v. Wade decision.

Unfortunately the administration’s assault on women’s rights does not end there.

Last April, Bush signed into law the "Unborn Victims of Violence Act," a controversial measure denounced by the ACLU and other organizations for the way it undermines reproductive rights.

This act has, in effect, created an unprecedented recognition of zygotes (fertilized eggs), blastocysts (pre-implantation embryos), embryos (up to week-eight pregnancies), and fetuses as independent from their mothers, with distinct legal rights.

This is a big win for anti-abortionists everywhere, since it allows room for exploitation of the intent of the law in order to define abortion and even birth control as murder.

Combine these travesties with the passage of a federal late-term abortion ban introduced by Senator Rick Santorum in 2003, and the evidence is clear: There is a concerted effort in place to repeal the rights women have gained throughout the 20th century, and we have a responsibility to fight back.