For the past few years, misogyny and antagonism toward women has been breaking out across our country like a rash of festering boils. In several states, laws have been enacted that give the unborn fetus constitutional rights, while simultaneously relegating the rights of pregnant women to second class status. Because of these laws, any pregnancy is a potential crime scene to a zealous prosecutor. Even though women have a 30 percent chance of having a miscarriage, these laws would require each one to be investigated for neglect or malfeasance on the part of the pregnant woman. This is not hypothetical. In Iowa, a woman in her second trimester of pregnancy who fell down a set of stairs, fearful of possible damage to her fetus, called an ambulance for assistance. At the hospital doctors thought that she may have fallen on purpose and called police. She was charged with attempted fetal homicide, separated from her children and held for two days until the prosecutor realized that the law only applied to the third trimester of pregnancy.
Similar horror stories abound from California to Alabama and beyond: Women are being forced to have Cesarian sections against their will; addicted women are being prosecuted for crimes against the fetus while at the same time being denied access to any help for their addictions; Republicans in the U.S. Congress have gone so far as to introduce legislation that would allow a hospital to refuse to perform an abortion even if it means that the pregnant woman will die. Having valiantly saved a fetus, these politicians then make sure that any poor ones will be condemned to poverty and malnutrition as they furiously cut funds for Head Start, food stamps and any other aid to poor children and mothers that they can find.
In Florida, George Zimmerman is allowed to kill an unarmed black teenager in order to "stand his ground" but a woman being accosted by her violent, abusive husband fires a warning shot into the air to keep him at bay and faces 60 years if the prosecutor has his way.
Although official rhetoric declares the contrary, rape in the ranks of the military isn't seen to be as much of a danger to unit cohesion as does the prosecution of those rapes. Commanders prefer to place the blame on the victims rather than to face the realities of the under-reported rape epidemic.
In spite of corroborating DNA and forensic evidence, prosecutors demurred from prosecuting Dominique Strauss-Kahn for rape because his victim gave false information to help her gain asylum in the U.S. from her home country of Guinea. Her untruths used to escape an untenable life were judged to be more prejudicial to the case than either the physical evidence or Strauss-Kahn's extensive history of philandering and aggressive sexual behavior.
Yes, our society has been doing a bang up job of demarcating women's inferior place beneath men and the unborn fetus. Vermonters may well have been shaking their heads at this craziness around us and thinking that at least we won't see these kind of foul actions by our government representatives. But now, the Democratic led Senate has effectively placed women in the category of property, and second class property at that.
Vermont law instructs judges to take away guns from a person who has had a relief from abuse order imposed. Judges has been reluctant to do so because there is often no system for storing and returning the guns safely and securely. Legislation was introduced to enable law enforcement to store guns and to be paid to cover the related costs. Law enforcement officers and domestic violence workers alike advocated for this bill. But the only voice that apparently mattered to the Senate was that of the gun rights advocates. Although they had originally supported the legislation, the gun lobby changed its mind and, just like that, the bill was as good as dead. Lobbyists for the NRA-backed and independent gun rights groups cited the illegal seizure of property as a fourth amendment violation. This might be what one would expect from a man who would prefer to sleep with his gun and keep his wife in the closet, but why does this attitude get any traction in our legislature? Temporarily losing a gun is more egregious than a woman losing her life? A man who has threatened to kill his wife should be able to hang onto his guns even when under a restraining order? The sordid history of women murdered by armed men violating restraining orders hasn't taught us anything? Or do we just not care?
The almost mystical hold that the gun lobby has on American politicians is creepy in its own right. But when combined with a blatant disregard for the rights of women and no acknowledgment of the dangers they face in an unequal society, it is a moral failure. Second and Fourth Amendment rhetoric can't gloss over the dismissive misogyny that lies buried beneath the arguments. It's time for states to stand up for the rights of women, and stop wallowing in the stench of the morally bankrupt, reactionary attitudes that are increasing evident in our national consciousness.
Dan DeWalt writes from Newfane.