"On September 11, we saw clearly that evil exists in this world, and that it does not value life... Now we are engaged in a fight against evil and tyranny to preserve and protect life."
- Bush in 2002, linking abortion rights with terrorism, as he declared the 29th anniversary of Roe v. Wade to be "National Sanctity of Human Life Day.
Under Bush, the US has become more militaristic and less tolerant of diplomacy and dissent. Women's rights have deteriorated accordingly.
Sabotaging programs for women has become something of a sport for this administration - in fact, one of Bush's first acts as president was to shut down the White House Office for Women's Initiatives and Outreach. Among other activities, the office had monitored policy initiatives and coordinated federal programs affecting women.
Bush then tried to close the Department of Labor Women's Bureau regional offices, thus prohibiting women from learning about their legal rights in the workplace.
Most recently, the administration took revenge on the Office of Women's Health, presumably because it had backed scientific research supporting the emergency contraceptive Plan B. Previous attempts to punish the office had included appointing a veterinarian as its director (speaks volumes, Bush wanted an animal doctor to be in charge of US women's health), but two weeks ago, the hammer fell. The Women's Health Office learned that its budget for this year would be slashed by 25%, thus threatening ongoing operations and research into everything from menopause to birth control.
The administration often uses funding as a weapon against women's programs, both at home and abroad. Quickly after assuming office, for example, Bush brought back Reagan's much-maligned "gag" rule, which prohibits healthcare providers abroad from receiving US funding, even if they spend their own money in counseling women about abortion or in providing abortion services. For developing countries struggling with HIV/AIDS, the gag rule's return has meant a double whammy: reduced access to USAID-supplied contraceptives and condoms plus the closure of healthcare clinics critical to local populations.
The administration has also defunded the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which works in over 140 countries supporting maternal-health and family-planning programs, as well as fighting HIV/AIDS and violence against women. The administration has claimed that UNFPA was involved in coercive reproductive health practices in China - a charge a State Department investigation proved false.
Such funding cuts have had predictably tragic consequences. The respected British medical journal Lancet notes that more than 500,000 women die each year from "often preventable" pregnancy complications and that "women's health rapidly improves when abortion is made legal, safe, and easily accessible but this is not an option for many women." According to Lancet, "An estimated 90% of deaths from unsafe abortions and 20% of obstetric mortality could be avoided with improved access to contraception . Yet the latest figures show that donor funding for family planning has decreased by 36%."
Unfortunately, the administration's FY2008 budget promises more of the same: hundreds of billions of dollars for war with corresponding reductions in programs benefiting women.
So as we observe International Women's Day, it's up to those of us lucky enough to live in relative freedom and financial security to link the Bush administration's focus on achieving goals through war and weaponry with the inevitable cutbacks to social programs benefiting women and children. And it's up to us to demand that the administration pursue diplomacy with Iran, rather than a disastrous military strike.
After all, the US and Iran have a lot in common. Unlike most other countries across the globe, neither has ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Heather Wokusch is the author of 'The Progressives' Handbook: Get the Facts and Make a Difference Now, Volumes I and II'. She can be reached at www.heatherwokusch.com