First, Some Bad News

By Lisa Bennett, NOW Communications Director

There’s lots of news to report on feminist issues, so today I’m highlighting some of the more outrageous stuff, and tomorrow I’ll focus on the good news.

Reversal on Protection for LGBT Workers: This month Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) signed an executive order that denies LGBT workers in that state protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation. McDonnell’s order specifically “supersedes and rescinds” a 2006 order instituted by his predecessor, Tim Kaine, that did include sexual orientation. McDonnell’s office suggests that discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated in the Office of the Governor — so why make a point of re-issuing the order minus an articulation of protection for LGBT people?

According to The Washington Post, McDonnell “maintained that his predecessors had overstepped their executive authority by including sexual orientation protections in the orders and has not renewed them. He said the issue would be properly decided by the General Assembly.” Legislation making it illegal to discriminate in the state workforce, including on the basis of sexual orientation, did recently pass the Virginia Senate, but is not likely to advance in the more conservative House of Delegates.

How Far Will They Go to Demonize Abortion?: At a Feb. 18 press conference promoting legislation that would end state funding for Planned Parenthood, Virginia Delegate Robert G. Marshall (R) presented his position on abortion, which is backed up by video of the event on his own website: “The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion who have handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first-born of any, Nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children.”

Understandably, his statement has sparked outrage, particularly from parents of children with disabilities, and calls for his resignation. Marshall has offered a fairly standard non-apology apology, claiming his words have been twisted and misinterpreted. Sorry, but Marshall’s sentiment seems pretty clear to us, especially considering his reference to the “malevolent organization” he calls Planned “Barrenhood.”

States Going After Abortion: Conservative forces at the state levels are always in the process of trying to pass legislation that will restrict a woman’s ability to access abortion. Two such efforts that caught our attention recently are Utah and Nebraska. Legislators in Utah passed a bill that aims to “describe the difference between abortion and criminal homicide of an unborn child and to remove prohibitions against prosecution of a woman for killing an unborn child or committing criminal homicide of an unborn child.” Included in this law is this dangerous, slippery slope language: “A person commits criminal homicide if the person intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, with criminal negligence, or acting with a mental state otherwise specified in the statute defining the offense, causes the death of another human being, including an unborn child at any stage of its development.” Does this open the door for targeting women who suffer miscarriages? NOW certainly is concerned about the potential ramifications and point out that these bills are usually worded just vaguely enough that they can be stretched to include a wide range of circumstances.

In Nebraska, lawmakers are trying to advance a bill that will outlaw abortions in the state past 20 weeks, because it states that fetuses can feel pain at that point. The so-called Abortion Pain Prevention Act is based on ideology, not science, and is not supported by evidence or any consensus in the medical community. Fetal pain, however, is a popular idea with anti-abortion advocates, so expect to see more and more of these type of laws.

Woman Sportscaster Blasted for Appearance: Sports reporter Tony Kornheiser went on a rant last week about the age and attire of one of his co-workers at ESPN, Hannah Storm. Speaking on his radio show, Kornheiser had this to say: “Hannah Storm in a horrifying, horrifying outfit today. She’s got on red go-go boots and a Catholic school plaid skirt way too short for somebody in her 40s or maybe early 50s by now. She’s got on her typically very, very, very tight shirt. She looks like she has sausage casing wrapping around her upper body. I know she’s very good, and I’m not supposed to be critical of ESPN people, so I won’t. But Hannah Storm, come on now. Stop. What are you doing?” ESPN suspended Kornheiser from TV for two weeks, and he has admitted that he was wrong.

But this brings up a tired, old point. In the appearance department, women just can’t catch a break. We dress like frumps, we dress like sluts. We’re trying too hard or not hard enough. We’re too thin, we’re too fat. Our society constantly tells women to look as sexy and youthful as possible without crossing some mysterious line. And men, of all ages and appearances, get to weigh in on how we’re doing, usually with punishingly cruel words. Has anyone learned anything from this episode? Unlikely.

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