New York Times editorial: "The War Against Women"

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Sun Jan 12 19:48:24 MST 2003

The War Against Women       Editorial
January 12, 2003 , The New York Times

unning for the White House in the fall of 2000, George W.
Bush did not talk about ending the right to abortion. To
avoid scaring off moderate voters, he promoted a larger
"reverence for life" agenda that also included adoption and
tougher drunken driving laws. Voters were encouraged to
believe that while Mr. Bush was anti-choice, he was not out
to reverse Roe v. Wade.

Yet two years into the Bush presidency, it is apparent that
reversing or otherwise eviscerating the Supreme Court's
momentous 1973 ruling that recognized a woman's fundamental
right to make her own childbearing decisions is indeed Mr.
Bush's mission. The lengthening string of anti-choice
executive orders, regulations, legal briefs, legislative
maneuvers and key appointments emanating from his
administration suggests that undermining the reproductive
freedom essential to women's health, privacy and equality is
a major preoccupation of his administration - second only,
perhaps, to the war on terrorism.


As the 30th anniversary of the Roe decision approaches,
women's right to safe, legal abortions is in dire peril.

President Bush's assault on reproductive rights is part of a
larger ongoing cultural battle. If abortion were the only
target, the administration would not be attempting to block
women's access to contraceptives, which drive down the
number of abortions. His administration would not be
declaring war on any sex education that discusses ways,
beyond abstinence, to prevent pregnancy and sexually
transmitted diseases. Scientifically accurate information
about contraceptives and abortion would not have begun
disappearing from federal government Web sites.

A big thrust of Mr. Bush's aggressive anti-choice crusade
has been to undermine the legal foundation of the Roe
decision by elevating the status of a fetus, or even a
fertilized egg, to that of a person, with rights equal to,
or perhaps even exceeding, those of the woman. This desire
to recognize the personhood of zygotes is part of the
rationale behind the Bush policy prohibiting federal
financing for research on all new embryonic stem-cell lines,
despite the hopes that this research could lead to
breakthroughs in treatments for diseases like Parkinson's,
cancer and diabetes. Tommy Thompson, the secretary of health
and human services, was following the same drumbeat when he
made "unborn children" rather than pregnant women eligible
for coverage under the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Mr. Bush has begun packing the judiciary with individuals
whose hostility to Roe v. Wade matches his own and that of
his famously anti-choice attorney general, John Ashcroft. In
Congress, he backs a radical measure called the Abortion
Non-Discrimination Act, which would further reduce the
already thin availability of abortion services. It would
allow government-supported health care providers to decline
to include abortion in their reproductive health services.
The providers could even forbid their doctors from
mentioning abortion as a legal option to female patients.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Bush is also a strong supporter of the
other pending anti-choice initiatives, including the ban on
so-called partial-birth abortions. Like so much of the
president's policy on this issue, the ban masquerades as a
modest initiative that has wide popular support -
eliminating already rare late-term abortions - while its
actual effects are far more sweeping. This effort to
criminalize certain abortion procedures would actually
restrict a woman's right to choose abortion by the safest
method throughout pregnancy. So concluded the current
Supreme Court, hardly a bastion of liberal abortion rights
sympathizers, when it rejected an earlier version nearly
three years ago.

The effects of the new anti-choice agenda are also affecting
women abroad. On his very first day on the job, the
president reimposed the odious global "gag" rule first
instituted by President Ronald Reagan, then lifted by
President Bill Clinton in January 1993. It bars health
providers receiving American family planning assistance from
counseling women about abortion, engaging in political
speech on abortion or providing abortion services, even with
their own money.

In resurrecting the gag rule, the new president broadcast a
disdain for freedom of speech to emerging democracies, while
crippling the international family planning programs that
work to prevent hundreds of thousands of infant and maternal
deaths worldwide each year.

Most Americans would be shocked at the lengths American
representatives are going to in their international war
against women's right to control their bodies.

Last year, Bush administration delegates to the United
Nations Special Session on Children tried to block a plan to
promote children's well-being and rights, taking offense at
language promising "reproductive health services." This same
crackerjack delegation also opposed special efforts to help
young girls who are victims of war crimes - which most often
means rape. The delegates were worried that the measure
would be construed to provide these victims with information
about emergency contraception or abortion.

The administration's anti-choice obsession has also prompted
it to freeze millions of dollars in financing for valuable
programs run by the World Health Organization and the United
Nations Population Fund to advance reproductive health and
combat H.I.V. and AIDS.


Last summer, the president withdrew his support for Senate
ratification of a women's rights treaty that requires
nations to remove barriers of discrimination against women
in areas like legal rights and health care. Just last month,
at a United Nations' population conference in Bangkok, the
American delegation made an embarrassing, and ultimately
unsuccessful, attempt to block an endorsement of condom use
to prevent AIDS.

On the surface, the Bush administration's war against
women's rights is a series of largely unnoted changes. It is
intended to look that way. In reality, it is a steady march
into the past, to a time before Roe v. Wade, when abortion
was illegal and pregnancy was more a matter of fate than

People can debate whether Mr. Bush's various efforts to
dismantle Roe and block women's right to choose around the
globe flow from his own deeply felt moral or religious
beliefs, or merely cater to extreme elements within his
party. What is important is the actual impact of the
presidential assault: women's constitutional liberty has
been threatened, essential reproductive health care has been
denied or delayed, and some women will needlessly die.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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