by Jeremy Leaming
In 1994 federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle banded together to advance legislation aimed at tackling the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence. It was and remains a noble goal. Indeed it represented one of the more communitarian pieces of legislation of the time. The nation it seemed, even if fleeting, to be concerned about bettering the quality of lives of some of the nation’s most vulnerable, as opposed to catering solely to the nation’s wealthiest and most powerful.
Today reauthorization of the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), as noted on this blog, is mired in mindless obstructionism. The reauthorization measure was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in February, and finally passed the Senate today on a 68-31 vote. But House Republicans are itching to keep obstructionism alive, promising their own reauthorization measure.
Though the Justice Department has reported a decline in domestic violence, a 2011 National Census of Domestic Violence Services revealed that more than 67,000 victims of domestic violence received federal help in a single day.
Moreover since enactment of the VAWA it has become apparent that services need to be extended, such as free legal services to victims, authority for Native American officials to respond to abuse of Indian women by those not covered by Indian jurisdiction, more help to undocumented people who are victims of domestic violence, and to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender victims of domestic violence.
It is this effort to help more people that spurred opposition. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) complained about the reauthorization measure’s additional services. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said the bill’s efforts to expand the reach of domestic violence programs were meant to “invite opposition.”
Right-wing lobbying groups have also ramped up opposition to reauthorization. The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins said the VAWA reauthorization bill “does real violence to the budget and individual freedom.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a Tea Party favorite, took to the Senate floor to declare that he was not voting against helping victims of domestic violence. He said he was voting against “big government and inefficient spending ….”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, who introduced the reauthorization measure with Michael Crapo (R-Idaho), lauded today’s Senate vote, and said he hoped the House “will soon consider this legislation ….”
But The Associated Press reported recently that a group of Republicans in the House is working to create a different reauthorization bill. It would likely strip the Senate’s efforts to help undocumented immigrants, Native Americans, and gays, lesbians and transgenders.
During the Senate’s drawn-out effort to reauthorize the VAWA, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told The New York Times that the Republican opposition “is part of a larger effort, candidly, to cut back on the rights and services to women. We’ve seen it go from discussions on Roe v. Wade, to partial birth abortion, to contraception, to preventive services from women. This seems to be one more thing.”
We will refrain from calling it a war on or against women. As The Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan notes the term is “so hackish.” Fair enough. But Sullivan in a post titled “An Anti-Abortion Frenzy In The States” does note "there is a wave of laws in GOP controlled states, making abortion harder and harder and more humiliating to obtain, and what can reasonably be described as a full-bore assault on Planned Parenthood, is simply undeniable.”
Indeed numerous states, many controlled by rightists, have been on a roll, considering and implementing laws that restrict women’s access to abortions. Louise Melling, director of the ACLU’s Center for Liberty, said these state lawmakers were stigmatizing women, by advancing the belief that women are incapable of making decisions on abortions.
Regardless of what the efforts are called, they are intrusive, and undermine efforts to help people. But the “Christianist GOP is undeterred,” Sullivan says. He notes the states that are contemplating measures to give legal rights to embryos. Last year Mississippians rejected such a measure. But as Sullivan reports, the Tennessee House and Senate have approved a bill allowing “prosecution for harming an embryo.”
Such efforts are likely to continue to proliferate. A Religious Right outfit, Personhood USA is pressuring states nationwide to adopt such measures, with its website claiming all 50 states are targeted. The group says it is “working to respect the God-given right to life by recognizing all human beings as persons who are ‘created in the image of God’ from the beginning of their biological development, without exceptions.”
[image via www.feinstein.senate.gov/public]