Since the start of the year, a number of bills or amendments to bills targeting men’s reproductive health have been submitted to state legislatures by mostly female Democratic state legislators.
The legislation has been seen as alternatively serious and ridiculous but political experts concur that even if the legislation doesn’t stand a chance at becoming law, it is a viable political strategy to galvanize people – women in particular – to get out and vote.
“I don’t think that any of these pieces of legislation have a snowball’s chance in hell of passing,” said Jennifer Lawless, the director of American University’s Women and Politics Institute. “It’s a pretty interesting way to call attention to what could be a major problem for women. It’s kind of a sexy way to highlight the gender disparity here and what that means in terms of policy. As long as this issue stays in the news it gives Democrats and women legislators on the Democratic side in particular a rallying point.”
Legislators in at least seven states have introduced legislation that ranges from banning vasectomies, to requiring men to get counseling before being able to get a prescription for erectile dysfunction, to outlawing the spilling of semen in any location other than a woman’s vagina.
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While many of the legislators who have introduced men’s reproductive health legislation acknowledge that doing so is to prove a point rather than a serious attempt at passing such legislation, it is without a doubt a reaction to the onslaught of legislation targeting women’s reproductive health.
“I think that some of these bills have brought attention to the fact that women’s healthcare, and very specifically, women’s reproductive healthcare, has been micromanaged by state legislatures across this country,” said Bebe Anderson, the director of the U.S. Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights, a New York-based global human rights organization. “The government has seen fit to intrude into women’s ability to obtain reproductive healthcare services and some of these proposed bills and amendments shine a spotlight on the fact that it’s been women’s reproductive healthcare that’s been under attack.”
The Guttmacher Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit supporting sexual and reproductive health, reports that in 2011, states introduced a record number of reproductive health restrictions in 2011 with more than 1,100 provisions, up from 950 in 2010, introduced. Of the 135 enacted provisions, 92 in 24 states restricted access to abortion services.
Additionally, states’ family planning services faced deep budget cuts and repeated attempts have been made to defund Planned Parenthood and Title X family planning services for low-income women.
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In the first quarter of this year, the blitz has continued. Gaining particular attention across the country were a bill in Virginia requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion and the debate around the Obama administration’s contraception policy, with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee blocking the testimony on contraceptives by Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke and Fluke’s subsequent testimony to the House Democratic Steering Policy Committee and radio show host Rush Limbaugh’s personal attack on Fluke sparking nationwide controversy.