HPV, Abortion, Child Support, and Modern National Politics


 Rick Perry and the HPV vaccine, Mitt Romney and abortion rights, Joe Walsh and child support. It’s all about conservative dudes playing political football with women’s health this week on the podcast.

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Links in this episode:

Rick Perry mandating the HPV vaccine

Perry doing the penance tour

Joe Walsh is against abortion even to save women’s lives

Joe Walsh’s child support woes

Lawrence O’Donnell on Joe Walsh

Limbaugh claims people will go to jail for being uninsured

On this episode, Justin Elliott will be on to talk about Mitt Romney and his history with abortion rights.  I’ll also cover some of the obstacles faced by Rick Perry when it comes issues of sexual health.  Also, Joe Walsh embodies how much so-called family values are just about male domination.

Stephen Colbert interviewed Gloria Steinem about the new HBO documentary about her life.

  • Gloria *

I love how much Stephen Colbert loves feminism.  I just wish Jon Stewart could figure it out.  Though, to be fair, there’s been more of a move on “The Daily Show” towards exasperation with anti-feminists, probably because anti-feminists are getting more ridiculous.

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Since the last podcast, a couple of things have changed about the Republican field of potential presidential nominees.  Tim Pawlenty is out, so I guess it’s a good thing I never got around to putting money on him on those gambling websites that let you bet on anything.  But now Rick Perry is in, and you can actually sense the excitement from conservatives that they finally might have someone to vote for who isn’t a Mormon from a blue state or a crazy-eyed true believer who is on the record saying she lets her husband make her career decisions for her.  The hope here is that Perry is Bible-thumping enough to get the Christian right on board, but somehow establishment enough to get the establishment Republicans on board.  And I think, generally speaking, that’s not a problem. But there is one situation that Perry probably has to resolve if he wants to steal away Bachmann’s base of support.

  • perry 1 *

By the way, there’s no “could” here.  The HPV vaccine  prevents cervical cancer like the measles vaccine prevents measles.  The widespread testing of it showed it to be remarkably effective.  It was actually a somewhat surprising decision at the time, which was 2007.  By and large, conservative politicians decided to walk a tightrope with this one, not overtly condemning the existence of a vaccine that has the potential to save 4,000 lives a year, but not agreeing that girls should get it, either, because they don’t want to offend their base that really does think that cervical cancer is what you have coming to you for having sex.  Which is what Tbogg at Firedoglake brilliantly called the American version of parental honor killings.  But Perry just decided to go on the record with his belief that perhaps you shouldn’t die of cancer just because you have the nerve to perform a sexual act that nearly all women do in their lives, most routinely.  Which didn’t sit well with the people who do think that death should be on the table for women who have sex.

  • perry 2 *

Since there has never been a sex act in the history of sex that was abstained from because of HPV, this argument from conservatives has never made sense.  People have been scared by unintended pregnancy and HIV, and to a lesser extent, syphilis and Chlamydia, but until the vaccine came out, most people didn’t even really know what HPV was.  Since it rarely causes symptoms and is as common as dirt, it wasn’t really a threat in people’s minds.  Pregnancy and other diseases have a relatively short gap between development of symptoms and the sex act, but often a woman who dies of cervical cancer has no way of knowing when she got the HPV that led to it, since years pass between infection and the results.  So even if you buy the idea that threatening women with death is an acceptable weapon to keep them from having sex, HPV is the wrong tree to bark up.  I have to conclude that vaccine opponents value the death of women from cervical cancer for itself, and not just as a threat.  Which makes sense, after all.  If you think threatening women with death to control them is a fine thing to do, you’re probably that much more likely to think that women who have sex deserve it if they die of cancer.

Perry probably mandated this for a couple of reasons.  Merck lobbied him for sure, and they’ve given him campaign donations in the past, which helped tilt the scales.  But also, the vaccine was really new, and wingnut opposition to it hadn’t really coalesced yet.  He may have very well thought about how fear of HPV has never stopped sexual intercourse in the history of the world and thought that should settle the question.  He underestimated the support out there for cervical cancer as an actual punishment for women instead of just as a threat.  So now Perry is doing the penance tour.

  • perry 3 *

So that’s where we are right now.  In order to get the conservative vote, you have to support the idea that cervical cancer is a fine punishment for women who have the nerve to have sex, a category that includes the so-called promiscuous women that haunt fundie fever dreams, but also includes the church ladies and politicians’ wives they claim to approve of.  HPV is so common that even women who obey their rules and have sex with only one partner their entire lives still get it a lot.  It’s so common that gynecologists have assumed for decades that you have it if you’re sexually active or even just over 18, and they test for it with that assumption in mind.  In other words, this is about sex but also just pure misogyny, believing women should die just because they’re normal women.  That Perry has to sign off on that belief is frightening indeed.

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insert interview

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It can’t be reiterated enough: when conservative politicians blather on about “family values”, what they mean is believing that women are inferior to men, that men should rule over women, and that children are possessions of men that exist to boost male egos and can be disposed of as they see fit.  It doesn’t mean valuing families, because doing so would mean valuing actual women and children, not just valuing pregnancies because they’re physical proof that the impregnators’ sperm can swim.  The latest example of how true this is in Illinois congressman Joe Walsh.  Here’s how he answered a question about abortion in front of a panel of middle aged white men asking all the middle aged white male candidates how they feel about allowing mere women to control their own bodies.

  • walsh 1 *

He goes on to make clear that he opposes it even to save a woman’s life, because he believes it’s “murder”.  In other words, all these men have gotten together and determined they’re the ones who make babies, not those stupid ladies who just simply contribute nine months and 100% of the raw materials that create the actual babies.  Women are more like dialysis machines that can talk.  So even though refusing a dying woman an abortion means you get no woman and no baby at the end of it, Walsh still opposes abortion in those cases.  It’s much more important to uphold the belief that men make babies and not women than it is to allow mere women to live.

Walsh has also attacked gay families and single mother families by saying that children need a mother and a father. Of course, when he says that, he’s not talking about his children, it seems. 

  • walsh 2 *

According to Politico, “The suit charges that Walsh enjoyed foreign vacations with his new girlfriend while claiming he couldn’t pay support for his three kids because he was out of work.”  Girlfriend, huh?  I checked out Walsh’s voting record and found that he supported withdrawing federal subsidies for contraception as well as voted for a repeal of school health centers, which a lot of right wingers oppose because they distribute contraception.  The belief here is that allowing women to have contraception somehow “promotes promiscuity”.  I really think anyone playing footsie with some anti-sex beliefs should put themselves on the line. You get one sex partner, and that’s it.  If your marriage doesn’t work out, you are done. Running around with your girlfriend while refusing to pay your child support to your ex-wife while blathering about the importance of heterosexual marriage and withdrawing health support for women who, like yourself, have sex outside of marriage?  The only reason that’s called “family values” is “family values” is code for male dominance, full stop. 

At least one journalist tried to do something in the area of highlighting how dishonest it is to kick around this family values blather when you don’t value your own family.  Lawrence O’Donnell noted how Walsh blathers on and on about his children’s future, while his ex-wife is suing him for allegedly not taking care of his children’s present.

  • walsh 3 *

Oh boo hoo average guy!  You know what’s a lot more common and average than men just completely abandoning their financial duties to their children?  Abortion.  One in three women will have one in her lifetime, a much higher rate than men and reneging on years of child support.  If average is a defense, abortion shouldn’t just be legal but free.  You know what the average woman also does?  Uses contraception.  But Walsh voted to defund contraception funding across the entire country. 

That’s so-called “family values” for you.  It’s not about valuing anything but male privilege and male power, not just to impregnate a woman and force her to have it as a demonstration of your virility, but then to turn around and abandon your children once they’re born.  Writ large, this is the anti-choice agenda.  Force women to give birth while waxing on about life, but no actual support in terms of food, shelter, health care, employment, or education.  The word “life” just means “demonstration of male power”, not, you know, actual life.

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And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, health care lies edition.  Rush Limbaugh has really gone into deep lying territory with this lie.

  • Limbaugh *

This is simply not true.  The law holds that you are required to buy it if you can afford it, starting in 2014, and if you don’t buy it, you’ll get fined by the government.  Not thrown in jail.  Fined.  Which is not being thrown in jail, but instead is there to make buying insurance under the mandate worth your while.  By the way, individual mandates enforced with fines is a fairly typical feature of universal health care laws in other countries.


Follow Amanda Marcotte on twitter: @amandamarcotte