Tit for Tat

03.14.12

State Pols Outraged by Anti-Abortion Laws Push Onerous Restrictions on Viagra

Want to use the popular potency drug? First undergo a rectal exam, celibacy lecture, and waiting period. How fed-up female state legislatorsand at least one maleare pushing bills to retaliate against the male-led, restrictions-laden drive to limit women’s rights to abortion and birth control.

In the fierce public debate about contraception and abortion, revenge legislation is the new attack weapon. Women pols are using their posts to wage war on bills and laws that work to govern women’s wombs. And they’re not denying the obvious humor involved in what they’ve proposed. Monty Python is even a touchstone.

To give men a taste of how invasive and prodding government oversight into women’s sex lives has become, a number of state politicians sporting two X chromosomes have championed bills that mandate a pesky list of prerequisites for men who want Viagra pills. These include celibacy lectures, rectal exams, affidavits from former lovers swearing impotence problems, and forced viewing of a video pimping the medicine’s side effects. Acquiring the goods to get hard could be incredibly difficult. It's tough enough reading that list of regulations with a straight face.

“We’re talking about it, that’s a start,” said Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, who in the last 24 hours has been anointed the latest liberal media darling for introducing her version of a Viagra bill. The senator wants to “protect" Ohio's men "from the risks of PDE-5 inhibitors, drugs commonly used to treat symptoms of impotence.” Turner is retaliating against her state's cadre of male pols who push what are essentially abortion and contraception bans. They have, her press release suggests, been so protective of women’s insides that reciprocation is only fair.

“If you want to be preoccupied with regulating women’s wombs, we’re going to do the same thing with men,” she challenged.

Now a man joins what was once an avenge-legislation sisterhood. An aide to Ohio state Rep. Ted Celeste says he will introduce a companion bill shortly, intended to support women’s choice.

“It’s telling that a man would choose to do this,” said Celeste aide Aleksandra Panovska, who is helping draft the language right now. “It proves he is an ally to women.”

Panovska said Celeste will reiterate what Turner advised, but he will raise the stakes with three additional provisions. Viagra seekers will face a 36-hour waiting period for their prescriptions and a mandatory prostate exam, and if a professional evaluation shows impotence is psychological in nature, that data will stay in patients’ records for seven years. Panovska said the language is meant to mimic that of bills (like the 11 she says Ohio has seen) that take aim at women’s reproductive rights.

The Ohio state senator and representative, both Democrats, are protesting the "heartbeat" bill, which passed the Ohio state House and forbids abortions of fetuses that have developed beating hearts.

Celeste is surely soon to be a favorite of what Rush Limbaugh has lovingly called the “feminazi” movement, for his cheeky contributions and XY chromosomes.

“Usually women legislators take this on,” said Guttmacher Institute policy analyst Elizabeth Nash. “I can’t think of one man who’s done it.”

Ohio joins states like Missouri, Virginia, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Georgia in what is becoming quite the race to concoct the craziest gag on men’s sex lives. Georgia state Rep. Yasmin Neal protested a colleague’s bill to end late-term abortions without exception by parrying with vasectomy regulations.

Virginia state Sen. Janet Howell conceived the rectal exam to combat the harrowing ultrasound bill that many said subjected women to what is an actual definition of rape. Taking a cue from Monty Python, Oklahoma’s state Sen. Constance Johnson threw an “every sperm is sacred” provision at that state’s personhood amendment as a nod to its idiocy. “It’s up to us to smoke them out,” said Gloria Feldt, author of No Excuses and a former Planned Parenthood president, of staunch pro-life lawmakers. “We wouldn’t have contraceptive coverage today if we hadn’t done exactly that.”

“If you want to be preoccupied with regulating women’s wombs, we’re going to do the same thing with men.”

The past year has been such a frightening exercise in occupying women's bodies that this jokey, trenchant legislation seems to say, "Mess with us, and don’t think we won’t mess with you." But will these sturdy objections coalesce into a long-term path—a stronger, targeted women's policy agenda?

“I’ve never seen so many of these at one time,” said Nash. “It certainly isn’t serious policy, but they are meant to highlight how divisive abortion legislation has become.”

Women are through “hugging Rush’s neck,” as Feldt put it, for drawing attention and discussion to the attack on women’s reproductive choice, but she and others feel the topic must stay in the public discourse. Picking on men has generated positive press, but will these largely humorous bills have the legs to speed a larger policy agenda forward? In a fight this dirty, Feldt says, choice activists need to use anything and everything that could possibly work.

"You have to constantly be putting forward legislative initiatives or else you keep fighting to retain the little piece of real estate that you already own," Feldt said. "We are where we are because there has been an extreme lack of legislation for several years now."

But are American women ready to fight for this liberty at any cost? A sex strike would surely prove the point, and Ohio's Turner said she thinks American women could pull it off. “Women are the forces of the universe,” she said.

She says celibacy, which she recommended as a Viagra alternative in her bill, has deep religious roots, and might please those who argue for limited choice based on religious freedom and the First Amendment.

“Even the good Lord gives us choice,” said Turner. “To take away the free will for a woman to decide is the antithesis of the Christian religion.”