Are women suddenly running rampant in the streets by the millions, threatening society in unexpected ways?
You would surely think so by looking at the pattern that is visible across the nation: state by state, a well-funded legislative war on women is being unleashed. Many of these new proposed bills, or recently passed state laws, attack in novel ways women's rights to ownership of their bodies and their basic life choices, which second-wave feminists thought long won.
Planned Parenthood appears to be target No 1: Maine, Texas, Arizona, Ohio, Tennessee, Indiana, North Carolina and Kansas have all either had bills to defund Planned Parenthood successfully passed or else bills introduced to begin the process of defunding.
Target No 2 is abortion rights. Since 2011, 92 new laws against abortion took effect, in 11 states: some states, such as Tennessee, are passing creative new restrictions on abortion rights. On 12 April, Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona signed a new law banning abortions later than 18 weeks after fertilization, and imposing new regulations making abortion more difficult to obtain.
Other bills impose waiting periods for women after they have sought medical help – so that they are forced to "think it over" in a manner, and for a period, mandated by the state. A law in Utah requires women to wait 72 hours after receiving medical counselling, for instance, before having an abortion. A similar law is passed in South Dakota.
Finally, some bills – in a way that defies the US constitution – limit or criminalize certain kinds of speech to pregnant women: a law in Kansas would allow medical professionals to refuse giving abortion-seeking women information about clinics and doctors.
But women who want abortions aren't just facing a closing window of time to get the procedure done, or a mandated wait to extend an already agonizing decision period, or a longer journey to find an abortion provider. They and their medical teams are also increasingly likely to risk facing criminal charges – or even violence. A bill that was under consideration in South Dakota last year would have recast killing an abortion provider as "justifiable homicide". It was later shelved.
What is this flurry of legislation about? Is it about the sanctity of life?
I would love to believe that – and some grassroots opposition to abortion rights does, indeed, I have argued elsewhere, arise from a genuinely feminist perspective on social conditions that treat women as disposable sexual objects, and women's fertility as without value, or as an inconvenience to a consumer sexual culture; and these give desperate pregnant women no options at all except termination. Feminists for Life is an organization that I respect a great deal – though I don't agree with their policy goals – for creating a seamless pro-life feminist analysis of this kind.
But the groups and representatives that are wallpapering state legislatures with identikit legislation to penalize women's sexual and reproductive rights are the same bloc that gleefully kill food stamp programs used by the same desperate women if they choose to bear the child. This is the same constituency that happily supports sending moms of small children who are in the military into harm's way in corporate wars of choice. So what is this push deriving from?