EDITORIAL: GOP needs to get behind Violence Against Women Act

York Dispatch Editorial Board
Housing Program Supervisor Magda Sellon is in her office at the YWCA in Glendale, Calif. on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. With the threat of COVID-19 the YWCA is being closed to the public. Most of the workers will provide services to victims of domestic violence through video conferencing or over the phone. (Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

It's hard to overestimate the importance of the Violence Against Women Act for victims of domestic or sexual violence.

The act passed in 1994 and was the first comprehensive federal legislation designed to criminalize and end violence against women, according to Legal Momentum, a women's legal defense and education fund. The act focused on preventing sexual assault and domestic violence while also aiding victims of those crimes with housing assistance, training and more. 

The act must be renewed every five years, but its renewal in 2018, while passing the House, was never taken up by the Senate. Funding for the programs has continued, but there is no authorization for them, according to NPR.

The House has taken up the bill again, passing the legislation by a vote of 244-172 on Wednesday. Both Rep. Scott Perry, R-Carroll Township, and Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, voted against the bill, as did all but 29 of their fellow Republicans.

One stumbling block here is that there are new provisions in the VAWA, first introduced in the 2018 bill, that the National Rifle Association doesn't like. 

The bill would prevent someone with a misdemeanor conviction for domestic abuse or stalking from buying a gun, and it would also close the "boyfriend loophole" by expanding the definition of those affected by the firearms provisions to include dating partners.

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Republicans, not surprisingly, have taken up the NRA banner on the bill.

"This legislation makes it clear that Democrats consider gun ownership a second-class right," said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va.

No, it doesn't. The opposition to this part of the bill makes it clear that Republicans are willing to overlook the potentially fatal consequences of allowing known abusers and stalkers to own guns in order to support the NRA's mission.

The second difficulty, in the eyes of the GOP, is a new provision to strengthen the rights of transgender women to stay in shelters and be incarcerated in prisons matching their gender identity. The virulently anti-trans faction of the Republicans, led by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, spoke out against that measure.

“Again Democrats want to violate girls and women’s rights by destroying God’s creation, male and female. Putting biological men in women’s prisons, abuse shelters and extending them rights does NOT help biological women and girls who have been through hell,” Greene tweeted on Wednesday, according to the New York Daily News.

Greene and her followers need a reminder that trans women are among those most likely to be abused, assaulted and killed just for existing.

So, it boils down to this: Republicans in the House, including the two men representing York County, would rather side with a faction that rejects transgender people and with convicted criminals than pass a renewal of this important piece of legislation.

We can only hope that the Republicans in the Senate are more reasonable and see the need for the VAWA and the protections it gives.