MAYBE IT'S TIME to get head scarves. Then at least we might look like women the president believes deserve some measure of dignity.
Then, maybe, George W. Bush would see in American women what he says he sees in Afghan women: people who have a fundamental right to make decisions by and for themselves. This noble sentiment is extended most publicly and extravagantly to women oceans away. But not to us.
We are, for him, a breed apart - emphasis on the "breed" part. In matters of sex and health, we are not to be trusted to make decisions by and for ourselves. The government, the president believes, must help.
One way Bush helps us feckless American women is to say that fetuses deserve health-insurance coverage. The women carrying them don't.
This is the basis of the new administration policy extending federally funded health-insurance coverage for poor women - excuse me, poor embryos. The claim is that this would, somehow, improve prenatal care for those who need it badly.
In truth, many states already extend Medicaid coverage to pregnant women on the theory, accepted universally in the medical profession, that proper care for a pregnant woman is proper care for a fetus. In truth, Medicaid already pays for a third of all U.S. births.
Before birth and after birth, these women are not vessels for carrying the valuable and insurable fetus. They are just women. And so to the president, they are undeserving.
Of course, there would be fewer fetuses who might take advantage of Bush's health-insurance plan if women would just follow the administration's advice on sex: Don't have it.
Last year, Bush tried to eliminate contraception coverage for federal workers - married or not - who get health insurance through their jobs. Congress blocked that. This year, there's a new notch in the presidential chastity belt: a vast increase in funding for abstinence-only, non-sex education.
There is nothing wrong and much that's right with promoting teen abstinence. But there is something very wrong with spending tax money on programs that talk about abstinence and nothing else: There's no evidence they work.
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, in the most comprehensive study of pregnancy-prevention programs to date, said none of the abstinence-only programs it reviewed had any "overall positive effect on sexual behavior."
Other experts worry about initial research showing that alumna of these programs might put themselves at risk later on. Without having received instruction in preventing sexually transmitted disease or a pregnancy, a young woman can easily end up with both. For insurance purposes, it is, of course, better she get a fetus than AIDS.
Then again, if she is pregnant and something goes terribly wrong - wrong enough that a doctor recommends a late-term abortion - the government must step in again. The Justice Department has just intervened in an Ohio case in an effort to preserve that state's ban on a late-term abortion procedure opponents call partial-birth.
The U.S. Supreme Court already has ruled on this. It said state restrictions on late-term abortion procedures must not prevent a woman and her doctor from choosing the method they believe is medically safest. The Ohio ban does include a clause that purports to allow consideration of a woman's health. But it is so narrowly drawn that a federal district court already has said it violates the Supreme Court's dictate.
Naturally, the Bush administration has weighed in, taking the state's side against women and doctors. This is precisely what candidate Bush said he would do on matters of women and their personal rights.
But that was before he assumed the mantle of spokesman for women's rights around the globe. It is an ill-fitting cloak that cannot conceal the truth of his record at home.
Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc