on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics

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New York Daily News (U.S.), October 17, 2004


'My faith plays a big part in my life," said President Bush in the last debate. But, "I never want to impose my religion on anybody else."

No, he has left the imposing to the groups he funds and the appointees he selects.

From the first day Bush entered office and reimposed the Reagan-era gag rule - by which any family planning clinic in the developing world that so much as mentions abortion loses its U.S. funding - Bush has promoted a far-right Christian agenda. That is probably because, while white evangelical Christians make up only 25% of the population, they made up 40% of his voters.

This is something I had been aware of, of course, but not until I read Esther Kaplan's "With God on Their Side" did I realize how many profound (and silly) ways Bush has pandered to Christian fundamentalists.

Silly first? Okay, here: In the middle of the 1.5 million-acre Mojave National Preserve in California, there is an 8-foot cross on a big rock outcropping. It was ordered removed for separation of church and state reasons. The Bush administration appealed that decision, lost and appealed again - but in the meantime, it did something very weird. At the bottom of a 2004 defense funding bill, it added a provision to trade 1 acre in the middle of the Mojave Preserve (guess which?) for 5 private acres at the park's entrance. Bush used a defense bill to keep a cross in a national park.

But let's get down to more serious issues, like sex. Through Bush's faith-based initiative (which has yet to directly fund any initiative run by a Jewish, Muslim, Hindi or Sikh group), Bush has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to "abstinence till marriage" programs throughout the country. By law, only abstinence can be discussed in these classes, even when, as Kaplan witnessed when she visited one in Tennessee, a teen directly asks, "How do you use a condom?"

"Abstinence works," Kaplan admits. But there is no evidence that programs promoting abstinence work.

In fact, says Adrienne Verrilli, spokeswoman for the Sexuality Information & Education Council of the U.S., Minnesota, Arizona and Pennsylvania all evaluated their abstinence programs and concluded they needed to include a broader discussion of contraceptives and safe sex.

One more bit about sex: Just this year, the Food and Drug Administration's advisory committee recommended approving the emergency contraceptive Plan B for over-the-counter sale. Since it is almost unheard of for the FDA to rule against its advisers, women's groups rejoiced. By some estimates, this pill (which prevents a clump of fertilized cells from implanting in the womb and starting a pregnancy) could eliminate as many as half of all abortions in America.

But guess what? The acting commissioner of the FDA - Bush's man - ruled against the pill.

In this administration, whatever the fundamentalists want, the fundamentalists get. In short: This is a man who does impose his beliefs. Religiously.

<< Daily News -- 10/17/04 >>


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