Bush's 'war against women'

Posted: 1 April 2003

Shielded by the smokescreen of war, President George Bush is waging another stealth campaign, systematically working to undermine reproductive freedom around the world, claims The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).

Three years ago, in one of his first actions on taking office, President Bush reinstated the Global Gag Rule - or Mexico City Policy - which cut off U.S. international aid money from any family planning organization that engaged, directly or indirectly, in abortion-related activities.

The cost to IPPF - the world's largest family planning organisation - was 'devastating', the agency says. "$18 million was lost, clinics closed, essential reproductive health denied or delayed. This unjust policy has actually increased the number of unintended pregnancies and illegal, unsafe abortions and consequently needless deaths.

"Since then, using every means available to him, Bush has formulated a strategy to stifle reproductive rights and access to reproductive health care services.

"They include: instituting gag rules that censor free speech; supporting legislation that limits access to family planning and abortion services; sinking large sums of money into medically unproven abstinence-only sexuality education; nominating religious ideologues to important scientific posts and decrying the use of condoms."

IPPF Director General Dr Steven Sinding said:

"We are using this, the third anniversary of the Global Gag Rule, to draw the world's attention to a chronology of events which show George Bush's seemingly single-minded determination to strip women of reproductive rights and access to reproductive health services - not just abortion but even family planning and sex education.

"These acts are a testament to the Bush administration's war against women and his overall contempt for their fundamental civil and human rights."

Editorial comment

The IPPF's statement echoes the views of the influential New York Times, which wrote in an editorial on January 17, 2003:

"The lengthening string of anti-choice executive orders, regulations, legal briefs, legislative maneuvers and key appointments emanating from his [the Bush] 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."

"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, " says the editorial.

The battle against womens' rights has already been advanced by a series of measures including:-

  • the undermining of 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

  • the prohibition of federal financing for research on all new embryonic stem-cell lines

  • and making "unborn children" rather than pregnant women eligible for coverage under the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Mr. Bush has begun filling the judiciary with individuals whose hostility to Roe v. Wade matches his own. He supports new legislation which would allow government-supported health care providers to refuse to include abortion in their reproductive health services.

He also supports the proposed 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 editorial describes the effect of Bush's anti-choice agenda on women outside the United States, declaring that "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."

"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."

"On the surface," concludes the editorial, "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 choice."

"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."

Assistance falling

  • In a separate, more recent, statement, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) expressed concern that the world has dropped further behind its Cairo Conference commitment to invest $17 billion a year on population and reproductive health by the year 2000. Preliminary data have put the amount provided in 2001 at about $9.4 billion, down from some $11.2 billion in 2000.

    Addressing the Commission on Population and Development on March 31, UNFPA's Executive Director, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, said that the drop between 2000 and 2001 affected both external assistance and domestic spending by developing countries.

    External assistance, Ms. Obaid said, dropped from $2.6 billion in 2000 to $2.3 billion in 2001, representing just 40 per cent of the $5.7 billion target agreed as the developed world's share of the $17 billion funding for the Cairo Programme of Action. Domestic spending slid from $8.6 billion to a preliminary amount of about $7.1 billion. The sum of $11.3 billion was agreed as developing countries' share of population financing.

    "Given rising demands and HIV/AIDS infections, the mobilization of resources is more critical to the success of the Cairo Programme of Action and the Millennium Development Goals," said Ms. Obaid.

    "Whether the world will eliminate illiteracy and gender disparity or add 2.6 billion people will largely depend on the actions that we all take over the next decade," Ms. Obaid continued, partly referring to projections that world population might rise from today's 6.3 billion to 8.9 billion persons in 2050.

    Source: IPPF and UNFPA.