Bush’s Sop to the Right Hits Women Worldwide

Bush’s Sop to the Right Hits Women Worldwide

Bush’s Sop to the Right Hits Women Worldwide


George W. Bush has a sweet appealing face until he reveals his dark side, as when he, in one of his first official acts, cut off funds to international population control groups.

The pundits said he was merely getting even with organizations like Planned Parenthood, which have opposed John Ashcroft’s nomination as attorney general. But the stark consequences of that political vendetta will be tens of thousands of women around the world who will not have access to safe birth control and who will die in self-mutilating attempts at abortion. These women find themselves in such dire straits because they are, in many cases, the victims of forced sex, whether by husbands or strangers, who have total power over them.

In his message to the throngs bused into the nation’s capital last week protesting on the 28th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling that abortion is legal, Bush said, “We share a great goal–to work toward a day when every child is welcomed in life and protected by law.”

That sounds noble, but it begs the question: For how long is that child welcome–an hour or a lifetime?

What if that child is an 8-year-old street beggar in Rio de Janeiro or Bangkok? Will he still be welcome, and under what law will he be protected from pimps, perverted tourists and local merchants who hire gunmen to blow street urchins away? And what about the mothers of those children? Will they, and their families, sink deeper into poverty because of a birthing decision over which they had little or no control? Assuredly, they and their progeny will not be welcome to immigrate to the US to escape the economic collapse of their own part of the world. Nor has Bush even suggested an increase in the pathetic $2 annually per American allocated to foreign aid for the world’s poor. Instead, he proposes a $236 billion tax cut over the next decade for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, money that if spent on the world’s poor would represent a strong pro-life statement. In effect, he’s cynically cheering on spiraling and unsustainable populations abroad.

That’s the reality faced daily by the folks at Planned Parenthood and those other international population-control organizations that Bush–in a sop to the right wing of his party–decided to cut off from US funding last week. There isn’t a reputable social service organization that doesn’t prefer contraception to abortion. Denying these groups funding undermines their effort to educate about birth control, which would help head off abortions and also curb population growth. Fully one-third of the world’s work force is effectively unemployed, and the United Nations estimates that 500 million new jobs must be created just to accommodate new arrivals in the job market over the next decade. Developing economies do not stand a chance of meeting that demand without aggressive population control.

Yet Bush has chosen to cut funding for the very organizations, most notably Planned Parenthood, that work hardest to make birth control information available throughout the world. These groups do not use a penny of government money when they counsel women for whom birth control has failed that abortion is an option. But Bush would deny funds to any organization that offers abortion information in any of its privately funded activities.

For all his praise of private charities, Bush does not trust one of the nation’s most venerable social service organizations to organize its work so as to not compromise the law. This is an organization actively supported by his grandfather, Prescott Bush, who lost his first campaign for the US Senate because Democrats confused Catholic voters with charges that Bush had contributed money to Planned Parenthood. When he finally won the seat, Prescott Bush was a strong advocate for the organization.

His son, George Herbert Walker Bush, as a young congressman was the author of the Family Planning Act of 1970, which George W. is now attempting to reverse. He should heed the words of his father back in 1973: “Success in the population field, under United Nations leadership, may, in turn, determine whether we resolve successfully the other great questions of peace, prosperity and individual rights that face the world.”

Bush Sr. abandoned that sensible position to obtain the vice presidential slot on Ronald Reagan’s ticket. The Reagan Administration first imposed the “gag” rule on family planning organizations, denying them funds if they even mentioned abortion as a choice in their educational work. That is the ban that Bill Clinton reversed and which George W. has re-established.

Bush’s purpose seems to be that of placating the far right while punishing Planned Parenthood for having dared to suggest that John Ashcroft, who equates abortion to murder, cannot be trusted to enforce the law protecting a women’s legal right to choose that medical procedure.

One suspects that if Prescott Bush had been given the choice of trusting Planned Parenthood over Ashcroft to obey the law, his answer would have been obvious.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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