US: Bush Jnr's assault on women's health and freedom
Wednesday November 24 2004
(Originally from the New York Times)
Rolling back women's rights Dispensing with legislative niceties like holding hearings or full and open
debate, President George W. Bush and the Republican Congress have used the
cover of a must-pass spending bill to mount a disgraceful sneak attack on
women's health and freedom.
Tucked into the $388 billion budget measure just approved by the House and
Senate is a sweeping provision that has nothing to do with the task Congress
had at hand - providing money for the government. In essence, it tells
health care companies, hospitals and insurance companies they are free to
ignore Roe v. Wade and state and local laws and regulations currently on the
books to make certain that women's access to reproductive health services
includes access to abortion.
It remains to be seen exactly how the measure will work in practice. But the
intention, plainly, is to curtail further already dwindling access to
abortion and even to counseling that mentions abortion as a legal option. It
denies federal financing to government agencies that "discriminate" against
health care providers who choose for any reason to disregard state mandates
to offer abortion-related services. This represents a vast expansion of the
"conscience protection" that federal law currently gives to individual
doctors who do not want to undergo abortion training.
The affront to women's rights, moreover, should not obscure the serious
threat to the First Amendment involved in enacting what is likely to evolve
into a domestic "gag rule" as, one by one, health care providers order
doctors they employ not to provide patients with information about the
abortion option. This echoes the way Bush reimposed a blanket Reagan-era gag
rule for providers of reproductive health services abroad on his first full
day in office back in 2001.
Unfortunately, vocal opposition from Democrats and a handful of Republican
moderates was not enough to stop the pernicious assault on the rights of
millions of women from becoming law in the rush to pass the spending bill.
At least Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, won a promise from
the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, to permit a direct vote on a bill
repealing this measure not long into the new congressional session. In the
meantime, Americans, and American women in particular, are officially on
notice that post-election, the Republican war on reproductive rights has
entered an ominous new phase.