Rep. Debbie Lesko: As an abuse survivor, here's why I worry about Dems' changes to Violence Against Women Act

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Democrats like to say they are the party of women, but their actions demonstrate they are the party of political priorities first, and women whenever it is convenient.

Just consider the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which the U.S. House of Representatives will be voting on this week. This bill, intended to protect women, has become a political vehicle for radical Democrat priorities.

On its face, VAWA sounds like a good measure to help victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and trafficking, but do not let the Democrats’ rhetoric fool you – this bill in its current form is not about protecting women.

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I am a survivor of domestic violence from my first marriage. I was often fearful for my life and the life of my young daughter. We escaped this harrowing situation, and I was left as a single mother. I am intimately familiar with the needs and struggles women in these terrifying situations face.

I have been committed to advocating for domestic violence survivors during my time in Congress. As a survivor, it is difficult to see this bill that was intended to help women in similar situations, be used for political purposes.

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Historically, the reauthorization of VAWA has been a bipartisan effort, but the version of VAWA introduced by House Democrats is filled with partisan priorities like forcing women’s domestic violence shelters to take in men who can temporarily identify as women, stripping away protections for religious organizations, and eliminating Second Amendment rights without due process.

Thankfully, the Democrats’ last attempt to push this partisan version was stopped in the Senate, but with a new party in power, it may pass both chambers of Congress, allowing President Biden to keep his pledge of signing the legislation early on in his administration.

Ironically, President Biden, the bill’s original sponsor in the U.S. Senate – along with retired Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah – will be signing a version of the bill so perverted by partisanship, it will hardly be recognizable to its original drafter.

If the House version prevails, Democrats and Biden will be making it clear that putting leftist gender ideology into federal law is a far greater priority than helping women in need.

The most egregious provisions of this version push leftist gender ideology at the expense of important protections for women’s privacy. Sex-segregated shelters provide a safe place for women who have been abused and offer them a sense of privacy. If Democrats get their way, the federal government will require these shelters, under penalty of federal law, to take in men who can temporarily identify as women and shelter them with women – putting vulnerable women at risk.

Religious objections are also under attack in this version of the bill. The legislation excludes critical First Amendment protections for faith-based organizations.

Unfortunately, Democrats did not prioritize women when drafting the reauthorization of this critical legislation.

Recently, a faith-based women’s shelter in Anchorage, Alaska, was involved in a costly lawsuit when the city tried to force the shelter to admit men who identify as women. The shelter eventually won, but lawsuits like this will become more pervasive if this version of VAWA becomes law. This almost certainly guarantees that attacks on religious organizations will continue over disagreements on religious liberty and gender ideology.

Women in prisons have already suffered the consequences. Recently, a man, incarcerated for sex crimes, was reportedly transferred to a women’s facility in Washington, where he allegedly sexually assaulted a female inmate. This sets a dangerous example for what could come if we continue to prioritize gender identity politics over women’s health and safety.

Unlike previous iterations of VAWA reauthorization, this version also contains veiled attempts to undermine the Second Amendment. The bill introduces a new provision that would lower the standard by which governments can take away someone’s right to bear arms without due process, including for non-felony crimes. The Democrats are attempting to use this law, aimed at helping women, to change and erode Second Amendment rights for everyone.

Passing legislation that supports women who have been victims of domestic abuse, trafficking and sexual assault should be a bipartisan issue; and as a survivor of domestic violence, I know just how important services and protections are to women across our nation.

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Unfortunately, Democrats did not prioritize women when drafting the reauthorization of this critical legislation – liberal, partisan politics ruled the day.

We need to do away with this partisan legislation and instead, focus on a bill that truly protects women that can gain strong bipartisan support.

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