The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion ‘Women of America are not calm right now’

Abortion rights supporters at a rally outside the Texas state Capitol in Austin on Sept. 1. (Sergio Flores for The Washington Post)

Republicans’ infatuation with authoritarianism and embrace of white-grievance politics should not overshadow another animating aspect of their radicalism: deep-seated misogyny.

Republicans stood by a presidential candidate who admitted to sexual assault on the “Access Hollywood” tape, who was accused by more than a dozen women of sexual harassment or assault (including E. Jean Carroll’s allegation of rape) and who regularly demeaned women’s intelligence and appearance. And if they stood by Donald Trump, they certainly were not going to abandon Alabama gubernatorial candidate Roy Moore, whom multiple women accused of sexual misconduct against them, some of them when they were teenagers. Trump denied the accusations. Moore denied the accusations. Republicans wrote off their accusers as liars and nuts.

Over the course of four years, Republicans confirmed Alexander Acosta, the author of a cushy plea deal for Jeffrey Epstein while a U.S. attorney, as labor secretary; did not blanch when Trump as president defended aide Rob Porter, who was accused of domestic abuse (Porter eventually resigned); and countenanced a Mickey Mouse FBI investigation into Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, who had been accused of sexual assault (which he angrily denied during his confirmation hearing) as a teen. Trump rode to the defense of men accused of sexual assault (“It is a very scary time for young men in America”), and his party eagerly embraced the notion of male victimhood.

Now, the party’s descent into toxic masculinity has reached new lows in passage of a Texas abortion law that would prohibit, for example, a teen who was raped from seeking an abortion by the time she realizes she is pregnant. (As the New York Times explained, “By the time a pregnant woman misses her period, she is four weeks pregnant, as doctors usually define it. Under the Texas law, then, a woman would have about two weeks to recognize her condition, confirm the pregnancy with a test, make a decision about how to manage the pregnancy and obtain an abortion.”) Worse, it has set up a bounty system, encouraging others to spy on and turn in women for a cool $10,000.

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The Texas law is an extreme example of Republicans’ eagerness to strip women of their privacy, their dignity and their physical and mental health. Let’s not kid ourselves that this has anything to do with “life.” This happens at a time these same Republicans fiercely defend the “freedom” not to wear a mask or get vaccinated. This is about intimidating women from exercising their constitutional rights.

If right-wing politicians think the women who marched in January 2017, turned out in droves in 2018 and 2020 for Democrats, and ignited the #MeToo movement are going to remain mum about this latest assault on their independence and self-determination, they may be surprised.

Former Missouri senator Claire McCaskill, reelected in 2012 thanks to her opponent Todd Akin’s outrageous remarks about rape, spoke for many women who are outraged. Calling the Texas law “vigilantism,” she declared, “They’ve gone too far. And I will not accept ‘both sides’ on this. This is one party that is doing this.” She warned, “I got reelected because of an extreme position on abortion. I believe a lot of Democrats will get elected over this.” She correctly observed that today’s GOP is a “stewing pot of grievance.”

Even Republicans are nervous about the law. Former aide to House speaker Paul Ryan and Republican consultant Brendan Buck decried it as an “asinine way to set up a law,” and fretted, “There’s nothing conservative about how this is set up . . . it’s bad for everybody.” Republicans in making this about spying and vigilantism made a key error: They united pro-choice and pro-life Americans who shudder at the thought of Americans set against one another in a “Hunger Games”-style expansion of the culture wars.

The real victims are Texas women, especially poor and non-White women unable to go to another state for an abortion. But it is Republicans who may well pay the price. As McCaskill declared, “Women of America are not calm right now. . . . They are very upset.”

In a similar vein, Heidi Heitkamp, a former Democratic senator from North Dakota, after watching Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) struggle to respond to the Supreme Court’s decision, responded on ABC’s “This Week”: “I think the reason why you saw Senator Cassidy duck this issue, it’s politically very dangerous for the Republican Party to have to explain to a suburban mother why her daughter who was raped, you know, three months ago no longer has a choice.” She added, “I think that politically the reason why you don’t see the Republicans talking about this as a major pro-life victory is because politically it’s extraordinarily dangerous and it has dominated the discussion in a week that should have been pretty good for the Republicans.”

When American women across ideological lines find their fundamental rights at risk and recognize that their dignity, independence and lives depend on political action, that is bad news for the party that seeks to demean and subjugate them.