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Times Herald-Record (Middletown, NY)

Women of US, Arab Spring Share Uncertain Rights

Women trying to secure a foothold for their rights in countries whose governments were upended during the so-called Arab Spring have a lot more in common with American women than one might at first presume.

Recently, a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee heard testimony on the aftermath of the Arab Spring on women's rights in those countries and found the situation looks more like winter than spring.

Melanne Verveer, ambassador-at-large for global women's issues, said Tunisia is the country most likely to maintain fairness — or something like it — for women. Tunisia has a long history supporting women's parity, having included women's rights in its constitution. In its first election since the revolution, women won close to a quarter of the seats in Parliament. A mere 16 percent of women hold seats in our own Congress.

Egypt is a different situation entirely. Verveer told the subcommittee that no women were included on the committee that drafted Egypt's transitional constitutional declaration, and that only one female serves in the transitional cabinet. I cannot see Egypt's women securing their fair share of political power or human rights under either a military or Islamic regime.

Meanwhile, American women last week were spared a severe setback when Mississippi voters rejected a fetal "personhood" law. The so-called "personhood movement" has gained a foothold in various state legislatures across the country. Nowhere is it stronger than in America's Bible belt, where lawmakers and voters are fond of imposing their dubious religious morality on all residents, whether everyone agrees with them or not.

I hate to say this because I know it will raise hackles, but this behavior strikes me as being more similar than not to how the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. ...

Pro-abortion rights groups say anti-abortion rights groups won't stop with "personhood" measures. If and when they establish that a two-cell zygote has the same rights as the fully formed female carrying it, they will use their new legal powers to ban birth control as well.

Certain forms of it, such as the so-called morning-after pill, act after conception has occurred, but before the zygote implants itself in the uterus. That is the medical (not religious) definition of when pregnancy and, therefore, life begins.

The best way I can divine to get anti-abortion rights groups to put their money where their mouths are is to require every American to state on her/his tax return whether she/he supports abortion rights or not. Those who do not should pay an additional tax to support all the unwanted children they force poor women to carry to term. That tab would be pretty hefty, I'm sure, although politically such a test would be a nonstarter.

Legal experts say personhood is unconstitutional and is likely to be struck down by the courts, so perhaps the personhood movement is a nonstarter, too.

Which brings us back to women's rights at home versus those elsewhere around the world and specifically in Arab countries. Anytime church holds sway over state, women's rights are among the first things to go.

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Bonnie Erbe

Bonnie Erbé is a nonpartisan, award-winning American journalist and television host based in the Washington, D.C. area who has covered national politics for decades. She writes a weekly column for and for Scripps Howard Newspapers. She is also a contributing editor at Ms. Erbé is working on a novel about religious symbolism in Washington, D.C.

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