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The Women Trolling the GOP with Bills that Restrict Viagra Use and Ejaculation The Women Trolling the GOP with Bills that Restrict Viagra Use and Ejaculation

The Women Trolling the GOP with Bills that Restrict Viagra Use and Ejaculation

Throughout the US, female politicians are proposing laws that would regulate men's reproductive choices the way we regulate women's. Though the legislation is often described as satirical, the intent behind it is dead serious: to show how ridiculous and repressive our country's abortion laws have become.

"If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament." This adage—popularized by Gloria Steinem, who heard it from an "old Irish woman taxi driver" in 1971—ignited as a feminist slogan because it pithily evoked the double standard that allowed for men's sexual and reproductive freedom, but not for women's.

Forty-six years later, the slogan remains as apt as ever. Decades of progress have not managed to deter politicians from passing a deluge of laws that restrict access to abortion in ways grounded neither in evidence nor reason, forcing hundreds of clinics to shut their doors. In state legislatures dominated by Republican men, where anti-choice extremism has become the norm, female lawmakers are reciprocating by turning the double standard back on their male colleagues. The most recent example is Texas Rep. Jessica Farrar, who joins a dozen fellow female lawmakers who have wielded satire to illuminate just how hypocritical, unjust, and ridiculous politically motivated abortion restrictions are.

On March 10, Farrar filed House Bill 4260, titled "A Man's Right To Know," which she described as "an act relating to the regulation of men's health and safety" that would create a civil penalty for "unregulated masturbatory emissions." The title of the bill mimics "A Woman's Right To Know," the notorious booklet that Texas clinics are required to foist on women at least 24 hours before an abortion procedure, which relays medically inaccurate gems such as the (erroneous) claim that abortion is associated with death, suicidal thoughts, and breast cancer. With this bill, Rep. Farrar aimed to highlight the "glaring inequities" in how politicians handle reproductive healthcare for men and women.

Read more: A State-by-State List of the Lies Abortion Doctors Are Forced to Tell Women

"It is my personal belief that medical treatment should not change because of gender," she said in a statement. "It is the personal belief of some of my colleagues that it should. While this bill is written satirically, there is nothing funny about legislators disregarding medical best practices and, instead, imposing their personal views into law."

HB 4260 would require Texas physicians to provide all men seeking a vasectomy, Viagra prescription, or colonoscopy with the "A Man's Right To Know" booklet and to review its contents—including "artistic illustrations"—with patients at least 24 hours before their procedure. In addition, patients must undergo a "medically unnecessary" digital rectal exam, reflecting the Texas requirement that women seeking abortions must first receive invasive vaginal ultrasounds. The bill also mandates that, for each masturbatory emission outside of a woman's vagina, men will be charged $100 because such emissions will be considered an act against an unborn child, failing, as they do, to preserve the sanctity of life. And HB 4260 affirms a doctor's right to refuse to perform these procedures if it violates their personal, moral, or religious beliefs.

In a state like Texas with a Republican supermajority, Democratic lawmakers can feel powerless to prevent the passage of anti-abortion bills, much less to advance legislation that actually promotes women's health. In seemingly futile political situations, the satire bill has a distinct purpose: Even if it isn't able to change minds, it can at least capture national attention.

Bills like this highlight how crazy it is that men, who are still the overwhelming majority in political institutions, think they can regulate women's health.

"Bills like this highlight how crazy it is that men, who are still the overwhelming majority in political institutions, think they can regulate women's health and reproductive rights," said Dr. Jennifer Lawless, a professor of government at American University and the current director of the Women & Politics Institute. "It's a way for a minority party and female legislators, who don't have other recourse, to call attention to an issue and shape dialogue."

By putting forward the "A Man's Right To Know Act," Farrar set off a media firestorm, attracting coverage from local, national, and international publications and interest from readers on both sides of the debate, whose reactions ranged from outrage to glee. The bill is funny—but why is it funny? All of the provisions in HB 4260 mirror provisions that currently burden women in Texas, and yet they seem preposterous when applied to men. It is this disconnect that underlies the range of reactions. Opponents of abortion claim that equating male masturbation and vasectomies with abortion is disingenuous because the issue is not about control over women's bodies, but rather about protecting "innocent life." For the pro-choice contingent, the bill is powerful because it gives politicians a taste of their own medicine.

"It's not that these bills are written to be satirical, but the fact that they are considered satirical demonstrates the double standard," Lawless said.

Screenshot from Texas' "A Woman's Right to Know" materials

Farrar is not the first legislator to adopt this "kidding-not-kidding" strategy. Since 2012, at least 10 similar measures have cropped up across the country, proposed by female lawmakers who decided they'd had enough. In February 2012, Georgia Rep. Yasmin Neal put forward HB 1116 as her state House of Representatives debated a 20-week abortion ban. HB 1116 would amend Georgia code that relates to abortion to include prohibitions of vasectomies, except in cases where they are necessary to avert serious injury or death.

"It is patently unfair that men can avoid the rewards of unwanted fatherhood by presuming that their judgment over such matters is more valid than the judgment of the General Assembly," the bill said. "It is the purpose of the General Assembly to assert an invasive state interest in the reproductive habits of men in this state and substitute the will of the government over the will of adult men."

Rep. Neal's bill was quickly followed by a flurry of others. In Illinois, Rep. Kelly Cassidy responded to an ultrasound bill with her own, which would require men seeking Viagra prescriptions to watch a graphic video about priapism. In Ohio, State Senator Nina Turner announced SB 307, which would require men seeking erectile dysfunction drugs to visit a sex therapist, undergo a cardiac stress test, and obtain a notarized affidavit from at least one sex partner, a response to a "heartbeat bill" that would have effectively banned abortion after six weeks. Echoing the lyrics of a Monty Python song, politicians in Oklahoma and Delaware introduced "Every Sperm is Sacred" amendments to personhood bills—both of which would define the start of life at the moment of conception, giving full civil rights to zygotes at every stage of embryonic development—which would interpret any semen deposited anywhere other than a woman's vagina as an action against an unborn child.

I'm not going to sit here and hang my head when stuff is being rammed through that is wrong. What else am I supposed to do? We are desperate.

Missouri Rep. Stacey Newman crafted HB 1853, which also restricted vasectomies, in response to her colleagues' attempts to restrict access to birth control. Newman said that when she and her female colleagues tried to speak out against the bill, which would allow employers and insurers to refuse to cover birth control, abortion or sterilization for moral reasons, the Speaker refused to recognize them on the floor.

"[These bills emerged] out of sheer frustration," said Newman. "And it wasn't just the fact that our House was pushing this bill through, but also that during debate on the floor, there were seven of us women that stood for over three hours, and the Speaker refused to recognize us to speak on a bill that we were obviously more qualified to talk about than any of the men."

Newman said after this happened, those seven women marched outside and held an impromptu press conference with "steam coming out of our ears." That night, she decided to draw up a pushback bill, along the lines of what she had seen in Georgia, Ohio, and Illinois. Newman prefers the term "pushback" to "satire" because when the other side puts forward extreme bills that restrict women's reproductive autonomy, they aren't being satirical. They mean it, so why shouldn't she?

"I'm not here to be comical," Newman said. "All of us legislators take our work extremely seriously. This is not an ego thing. It's not about humor. It's about bringing in attention from outside about what's going on. I'm not going to sit here and hang my head when stuff is being rammed through that is wrong. What else am I supposed to do? We are desperate."


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Newman made headlines again in 2015 with another pushback bill—this one aiming to make it as difficult to get a gun in Missouri as it is to get an abortion. Missouri has some of the strictest abortion laws in the country—including a mandatory 72-hour waiting period during which patients are required to review misleading material that insists, among other specious claims, that abortion is tantamount to ending a separate life. It's a state that also has soaring gun crime rates; that year, Missouri took home the title of "state with the most shootings by toddlers," according to a report in the Washington Post. Newman's HB 1397 said that, before Missourians could buy a gun, they would have to meet with a licensed physician to discuss the risks of gun ownership at least 72 hours before purchase; review the medical risks associated with firearms (including photographs of fatal injuries) and alternatives (including "materials about peaceful and nonviolent conflict resolution"); and tour an emergency trauma center where gun violence victims were present, among other provisions.

"Again, this bill got a lot of attention," said Newman. "All of these are designed to get the everyday citizen, the average voter, to say, 'Wait a minute, you can't do this.' Of course most of the responses have been from men saying, 'How dare you?' And that's exactly our point."

Kentucky Rep. Mary Lou Marzian is another adept deployer of pushback bills. When she entered the Kentucky House in 1994, the Democrats held the majority. However the political makeup has shifted over the past few years and, as she puts it, a "new batch of crazy right wingers" now holds a supermajority. In response to a flood of anti-abortion bills, Marzian proposed a law in February 2016 that would restrict prescription of erectile dysfunction drugs to married men. In addition to a waiting period, her bill required men to produce a signed and dated letter from their spouse and to swear on a Bible that they would only use the prescription to have sex with that spouse.

Of course most of the responses have been from men saying, 'How dare you?' And that's exactly our point.

"Anti-abortion bullshit has been going on since 1973, and [the Republicans] will steamroll over women in the name of the unborn child," Marzian said. "Women don't control the legislatures. We are still second-class citizens, and they can act like they are so holy schmoly about 'saving a baby,' but these are the same people who vote 'no' on booster seat bills and won't fund health departments."

Marzian said her bill had the desired effect—she feels like her colleagues got the message and didn't rush to embrace as many anti-abortion bills after that. She also sees satirical bills as carrying a message for liberals. In states where they are a minority, Democratic energy tends to get absorbed in playing defense, and victories can feel few and far between. Satirical bills are a useful tool for shaking people out of complacency and rallying progressive momentum, according to Marzian.

"People can feel beat down, beat down, beat down all the time, and so when you have somebody finally fighting back in a way that is smart and satirical, and that makes the point [that abortion restrictions are a form of] government intrusion, they feel like there is a voice saying what they feel inside," Marzian said.

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Whether or not the lawmaker proposing the pushback bill views it as satirical, this sort of legislation makes a very serious point. State legislators have aggressively eroded women's reproductive rights for years; under the current administration, which is openly and gleefully hostile to Roe v. Wade, the assaults on choice are likely to continue escalating. The vast majority of the hundreds of abortion restrictions proposed in the last six years aren't supported by evidence, fact, expert opinion, or even common sense.

Writing restrictive laws put men in women's position is satisfying, and even illuminating: It exposes the draconian burdens that politicians impose on women's sexual and reproductive agency without a second thought. If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament, but they can't, so unless a digital rectal exam sounds like a reasonable step to a Viagra prescription, maybe—just maybe—they should consider butting out.

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