Detroit Free Press (USA), August 4, 2004
COLUMN: President's Politics
Hurts Women Worldwide
By BECCA ROTHSCHILD
"Don't the women of this country get what
Bush is doing? Why aren't more of them revolting?"
The questions erupted from one of two recent
dinner companions, both admittedly activist
I was hard-pressed to answer the inquiry about
President George W. Bush, except to note that
people who consider themselves pro-choice on
abortion tend to be more willing to vote for
people who don't agree with them than do people
who consider themselves pro-life.
It makes a strange sort of sense. Those who believe
in keeping abortion legal fight for choices,
so if candidates choose to think differently,
that's their prerogative. But for those who
believe abortion is murder, you're either against
any and all forms of the procedure or they're
against you, politically anyway.
With that kind of zeal, the president has imposed
his anti-abortion beliefs. On the domestic
front, he signed the Partial Birth Abortion
Act and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act,
which tries to reclassify a fetus as a living
human being, and rejected recommendations to
make morning-after pills available over the
But it's overseas -- where health care is scarce,
girls can be forced into marriage as young
as 12, and rape is often a weapon of war --
that his policies present the most danger to
women. Too many of them lack even the most
basic knowledge about preventing pregnancy
Every minute, a woman somewhere in the world
dies in childbirth, many leaving multiple orphans
behind. In that same minute, another 20 women
are injured or disabled giving birth. It's
not that they need the right to abortion, although
they should have it; it's that they need to
know how to avoid getting pregnant.
But the Bush administration's foreign policy
message is clear: Fetuses -- and domestic politics
-- are more important than women. Recent acts
support this point:
For the first time in 30 years, the United States
cut all ties and money to the Global Health
Council, which seeks to improve health around
the world. The council's 300 members include
two organizations the pro-life crowd can't
countenance: International Planned Parenthood
and the United Nations Population Fund.
Planned Parenthood has long been a target, no
matter that it teaches women and girls how
to stay healthy and avoid pregnancy until they
are ready. And the right wing loves to attack
the UNFPA for working in China, where the agency
has actually tried to defeat the national one-child
policy but is falsely accused of feeding it.
The United States was the only one of 192 World
Health Assembly members to disassociate itself
from the World Health Organization's global
strategy on reproductive health. U.S. officials
criticized the resolution for equating sexual
health rights with human rights and for saying
the group would work to stop "unsafe abortions."
To Team Bush, that signaled tolerance for safe
abortion and could not be supported.
"The Bush administration is ignoring the
reality that strengthening the health and well-being
of families in poor countries will make the
world a better, safer place for us all,"
said Jill Sheffield of Family Care International.
On the 10th anniversary of the 1994 Cairo International
Conference on Population and Development, the
United States joined others in recommitting
to most of its principles -- but distanced
itself from supporting reproductive health
as a means of combating poverty and illness.
It expressed reservations about such radical
terms as "reproductive rights," "reproductive
health," "reproductive health care
and services," "family planning services"
and "sexual health."
The ongoing global gag rule bars agencies that
take U.S. family planning funds from even advocating
to make abortion safer in countries where the
procedure is legal. The net effect has been
the closing of health care centers in areas
where they are already hard to find.
Finally, for the third time in as many years,
the Bush administration refused to release
funding that Congress had committed to the
UNFPA, again citing China. Never mind that
the president's own fact-finding team contradicted
the ridiculous claim that the UNFPA endorses
forced abortions in China. Bush has to date
cut off $93 million to the global organization
that tries to arm women with the information
that lets them choose when to get pregnant
and have babies in hopes of preventing illness,
death and, yes, abortion. It also fights the
spread of AIDS, which is growing among women
and is supposed to be one of the president's
Irrespective of abortion rights, the health of
women is suffering around the world. Bush is
not only not helping, he's making things worse.
Perhaps the president believes if he plays much
of his abortion politics abroad, he'll please
his extreme base at home without alienating
Not if they start paying attention.
BECCA ROTHSCHILD is associate editor of the
Free Press editorial page. You can reach her
at 313-222-6659, at email@example.com
<< Detroit Free Press -- 8/4/04 >>
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