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Afghan women's rights are threatened — but the GOP isn't their champion

The Taliban aren't the only ones trying to impose their will on women's bodies and choices.
Photo illustration: Two cutouts of an elephant illustration, holding banners with the silhouettes of two Afghan women.
Anjali Nair / MSNBC; Getty Images

Over the last few days, the airwaves have been filled with Republicans voicing their deep concern over the rights of the women of Afghanistan. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., put out a statement sounding alarm bells that women “will suffer the most” from the loss of human rights under the Taliban’s rule. Rep. Steve Chabot, the self-described “dean of Ohio GOP congressional delegation,” appeared Sunday on NPR declaring that under Taliban rule, the lives of women and girls “are going to be reduced, condemned to slavery.”

And yet, I have to wonder where these voices were when extremists, based on a narrow reading of their religion’s beliefs, enacted a law that forces a woman who was raped to carry the fetus of the rapist to term? That same law makes it a crime for anyone to assist that woman in trying to abort the rapist’s fetus.

That law was enacted not by the Taliban in Afghanistan, but in Arkansas. Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the GOP-controlled Legislature’s ban on abortion in all circumstances — except to save the life of the woman — in March. This law also makes it a felony to help a woman get an abortion — even in the case of rape or incest. Hutchinson didn’t hide that this law was about turning his religious beliefs into the law of the land, noting that he signed the legislation given “my sincere and long-held pro-life convictions.” (The law’s implementation is on hold while it is litigated in the courts.)

We all must be alarmed about what the future may hold for the women of Afghanistan. When the Taliban last ruled the country from the mid-1990s to 2001, they horrifically banned women from attending school, working or going outside without male chaperones, along with other oppressive measures — all enforced by beatings or worse. These grotesque rules are based on the Taliban’s “perversion” of Islam, as experts have noted.

Look, nobody is saying the GOP and the Taliban are equally bad. But in just the past few months, we’ve seen Republicans champion measures to deprive women of freedom over their own bodies, as well as oppose laws to protect women from violence and ensure that women are paid the same wages as men. And they’ve done so, at least in part, to impose their religious beliefs on all others.

Reps. McCarthy and Chabot had an opportunity to prove they are sincerely concerned with defending women’s rights in March by supporting the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. While 29 House Republicans voted for the law to protect women from domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, McCarthy and Chabot voted against it.

Same goes for Elise Stefanik of New York, the highest-ranking woman in the House GOP leadership. She issued a statement Friday slamming President Joe Biden for, in her view, turning Afghanistan over to the Taliban, saying it threatens “the safety and security” of the women of that country. But when Stefanik had a chance to protect “the safety and security” of America’s women, she also voted no on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.

Then, in April, all three — along with almost all other House Republicans — voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act, which “aims to eliminate the gender pay gap and strengthen workplace protections for women.” Women overall still get only 82 cents for each dollar paid to a man — the gender pay gap is bigger for women of color. For example, Latinas are paid only 55 cents for every dollar paid to white men, according to the National Women’s Law Center. The GOP’s opposition to this is a blow to gender equality.

And just two weeks ago, McCarthy, Stefanik, Chabot and 225 fellow Republicans in Congress signed a legal brief urging the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the seminal case that guarantees women in America reproductive freedom. The ability of women to control their own bodies should be a guaranteed human right, yet most of the GOP seems desperate to withhold it from them.

These Republicans know that if Roe is overturned, states could make their own laws about abortion access. As a practical matter, that means nearly half the states would be very likely to enact abortion bans like the repressive Arkansas law passed in March. Women’s rights can’t be a state issue.

If the GOP wants to show that it is sincerely concerned with the rights of the women in Afghanistan, it can start by first championing the human rights of women in the U.S. But instead, it is doing all it can to prevent gender equality while oppressing women based on its members’ extreme religious beliefs. Sound familiar?