Designing the American Burqa: Janet Brazill

By Janet Brazill

The Taliban has been notorious for its treatment of women in Afghanistan. Whenever they appeared in public, women were forced to wear a burqa, an all-enveloping garment that covers the wearer’s entire body except for a small region about the eyes, which is covered by a concealing mesh or grille. Women were not allowed to work or to be educated after the age of eight. They could not be treated by male doctors unless accompanied by a male chaperone, which meant that many illnesses remained untreated. They faced public flogging and even execution for violations of the Taliban’s Islamic laws. The burqa effectively assigned Afghan women to a secondary status in society.

American women may soon be required to wear the burqa being fashioned by religious forces in our country. This will not be the confining garment favored by the Taliban, but a network of restrictive laws that will accomplish the same objective of placing women under male control.

Make no mistake, this garment has been in the making for a long time. And now its shape can be clearly seen with the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in which five Catholic men who formed the majority opinion now permit a particular abortion procedure to be banned with no exception for a woman’s health. The case itself was based on a law passed by Congress where Roman Catholics are the majority, a law which sought to overturn a previous Court ruling that determined the health provision was necessary.

This effort to oppose women’s reproductive rights began shortly after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. In his 1980 ruling on the Hyde Amendment (which denied federal funding for abortions for poor women), Federal Judge John J. Dooling referenced the Pastoral Plan, which he concluded had been implemented. This was the 1975 Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities,” a detailed blueprint created by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) for infiltrating and manipulating the American democratic process at the local, state, and national levels to favor Catholic policy on birth control and abortion. In 1980, this infrastructure helped elect a president. The Reagan administration, overwhelmingly the most Catholic in American history, assigned an ambassador to the Vatican, and instituted the “Mexico City policy,” reversing U.S. commitment to international family planning. William Wilson, the first ambassador, told Time magazine on February 24, 1992, that “the Reagan Administration agreed to alter its foreign-aid program to comply with the church’s teachings on birth control.” Since then, the NCCB has become a powerful lobbying group in Congress.

To reach the public, fundamentalist Protestant ministers were cultivated, none of whom had shown a previous interest in abortion. Catholic Bishops helped finance the Moral Majority (started by Paul Weyrich, a Catholic) after Jerry Falwell agreed to oppose abortion, a new topic for him.

Now, with the Supreme Court on their side, these allies hope to pass many more laws restricting abortion. Will America eventually join El Salvador in prohibiting abortion altogether, even to save a woman’s life? There, women suspected of having abortions are examined by forensic vagina inspectors, and if guilty, can be imprisoned for up to 30 years, along with family members who help them.

This holy war on women’s independence may be creating an American burqa fully as terrible as the Taliban’s.

Janet Brazill is a longtime member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, living in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Freedom From Religion Foundation