Like many women who are also human beings, I’ve been following the twists and turns of the “War on Women” meme for weeks now, wondering what the heck it is we’re all meant to be fighting about. It seems that some women are worried that a President Mitt Romney and Republican Congress would—as they have promised—move against fair pay for equal work, toss between 14 and 27 million people off Medicaid (of whom about two-thirds are women), cut child care, health care, and food assistance for about 20 million children, defund Planned Parenthood, do away with Title X, and maybe seat a Supreme Court willing to reverse Roe v. Wade. Republican women, in their defense, argue that these and other legislative initiatives don’t constitute a war on women, so much as a difference in philosophy, or as 14 Republican Congresswomen put it yesterday in Politico: “We don’t see our lives as a product of government handouts. In fact, we resent the idea that we owe our success to bureaucrats, and not our own initiative.” As the writers conclude, “We have a right to be self-confident, and we have a right to be suspicious of politicians who say we should be dependent on government programs.”
But what’s so striking about so many of the GOP initiatives that implicate women this year is that they betray not a deep suspicion of “politicians who say we should be dependent on government programs,” but rather a deep suspicion of other women. Underpinning virtually every changed rule and policy, every effort to defund and repeal, lies an argument about the ways in which women are trying to defraud the government and simply can’t be trusted.
Start with the Violence Against Women Act, which was passed in 1994 and was reauthorized twice without fuss, but became snarled up yesterday when the House passed a GOP-sponsored version that expressly rolls back protections for Native American women, immigrants, and gay Americans. That version passed, despite the fact that over 320 advocacy groups opposed it, and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski cautioned that “We should not let politics pick and choose which victims of abuse to help and which to ignore.” The White House has threatened a veto.
But what is it about immigrant women that makes protecting them so controversial? As Michelle Goldberg writes today, “It’s not entirely clear why the House is so determined to gut VAWA. The immigrant protection provisions have broad backing—they’re supported not just by the National Organization for Women but by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Association of Evangelicals. The groups that oppose them, on the other hand, are fairly marginal.” One of the arguments that these groups (which include the foreign bride lobby) make against protecting immigrant women from their abusers is that there has been widespread bride fraud. Supposedly large numbers of immigrant women come to the United States and then lie about being beaten as a means of fraudulently obtaining visas. (Never mind that these women require police and hospital reports to back their claims.) According to this chilling report by Anna North, Bill Ronan, one of those who has pushed hardest to curtail immigrant protections, claims that countless men in America have lost their homes and financial well-being to fraudulent allegations of domestic violence by immigrant partners. Or as he puts it: "We have welcomed many scam artists into our country."
I’m just going to say that again: The GOP version of VAWA proposes to weaken protections for all immigrant women based on a claim that throngs of scamming immigrant women feign spousal abuse to get visas.