Published on Thursday, January 25, 2001 in the Boston Globe
Bush's Attack on the Poorest Women
by Ellen Goodman
WELL THAT DIDN'T take long, did it?
The cream-colored rug is barely installed. The Oval Office still smells like fresh paint. The inaugural address is still being praised. But already the uniter has become a divider. Goodbye, civility.
On the very first working day of the new Bush administration, George W. reached out ... to the right. He sent a garland to the hardy pack of antiabortion marchers mourning the 28th anniversary of Roe v. Wade on the Mall.
Maybe Laura Bush takes after prochoice Barbara, but George takes after dad. With his father's portrait beaming over his shoulder, he acted to reinstate a ban on funds for any international family planning organizations that even dare to give women information about abortion.
Looking for the first defining moment of a new administration? Try this one. The opening act of this compassionate conservative is an attack on the poorest women of the world who are looking for ways to limit and space their children. The very first ''antiabortion'' measure is, in fact, a measure against pregnancy prevention.
''The president does not support using taxpayer funds to provide abortions,'' said the brand new press secretary, Ari Fleischer. His boss elaborated: ''It's my conviction that taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions or advocate or actively promote abortion either here or abroad.''
But in the spirit of Education Week, maybe it's time to share the Cliffs Notes for a few classes in international family planning that the president skipped.
First, History Class. We haven't allowed international funds to be used for providing abortions since 1973. None of these ''taxpayer funds'' pays for abortions now.
Second, some Not-So-Fuzzy statistics from Math Class. We give about $425 million a year in foreign aid for family planning. That's .02 percent of our annual budget. It may be the smallest investment that's saved the most lives across the developing world.
As for Basic Biology, or Bio for Babes, as it's called on campus? The way to reduce abortion is to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Planned Parenthood's Gloria Feldt will let anyone crib from her answer sheet for the pop (or mom) quiz. Repeat after her: ''Family planning prevents abortion. Family planning is the only thing that prevents abortion.''
And finally, since Civics Class is making a comeback, check the Constitution, the working document of our nation. Americans believe in freedom of speech. It's our most popular product. Should we stop it at the border?
There is a reason why the ban the president reinstated is known worldwide as ''the global gag rule.'' While all foreign aid comes with strings attached, these strings are intended to sew doctors' mouths shut.
Under the gag rule, if a woman comes to a clinic with a problem pregnancy and asks what her options are, her doctor can't tell her. It doesn't matter if abortion is legal in his country. It doesn't matter if abortion is legal in our country. If he tells an endangered woman where she can get an abortion, the clinic could lose its funding for contraceptives.
What of a doctor who is prochoice and wants to lobby her own government with her own views? Under these rules, her organization too would lose funding.
Bush isn't just telling doctors and family planners in other countries what they can do with our money. He's telling them what they can say with our, or even their own, money.
How is this for a contradiction? The first piece of foreign policy signed by the new president of the United States is to gag freedom of speech overseas. ''We aren't exporting democracy. We're exporting plantation politics. We are saying, that if you want American money, you can't have freedom of speech,'' says Amy Coen, the head of Population Action International.
On the very same day Bush placated the right, Colin Powell spoke to the State Department. We're going to show the world, he said, ''what democracy and freedom are all about. It works. The other systems do not work. We're not going to shove it down your throat, we're going to give you the power of our example.''
The power of our example? Freedom without free speech? The first thing Bush has sacrificed to abortion politics is the American way of democracy.
Maybe it was Education Week after all.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company