Bush vs. Women's Rights
Feminists march for abortion rights & freedom April 25
Jenny Brown
April 2004

It's hard to keep track of all the reasons to oppose the current occupants of the White House, but for feminists, several recent assaults on women's right to control our bodies stand out.

Women and men from all over the country will converge in Washington, D.C. on April 25 for the "March for Women's Lives" to protest these policies and demand something better. Busses will be traveling from Gainesville.

Among his many achievements in restricting women's reproductive liberty, Bush has the distinction among Republicans and Democrats alike of signing the first federal law restricting abortion since Roe v. Wade was decided by the Supreme Court in 1973.

This is the mis-named "Partial Birth Abortion Act," which was passed through Congress in October 2003. (Clinton had vetoed a similar measure.) The ban is so vague as to include most abortions, although legal watchers say it won't stand up in court. Indeed, immediately after Bush signed the law, federal judges in San Francisco, New York City and Nebraska issued temporary restraining orders preventing DOJ from enforcing the ban.

The National Organization for Women described the law as a travesty--"the theft of our reproductive freedom and our constitutional rights, and this administration's complete disregard for the welfare of women across this country."

"The so-called Partial-Birth Abortion Ban is a dangerous piece of legislation that ultimately seeks to outlaw even the safest abortion procedures. The truth is that the term 'partial birth abortion' doesn't exist in the medical world--it's a fabrication of the anti-choice machine. The law doesn't even contain an exception to preserve a woman's health and future fertility, and it will have a chilling effect on the ability of physicians to offer women the best, most appropriate medical care at all times."

The Bush administration gave the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice the task of enforcing the new ban on abortion procedures. "Despite the fact that three federal judges have already blocked enforcement of the law (a nearly identical state law was declared unconstitutional just three years ago), the Justice Department, under John Ashcroft, said it 'will continue to strongly defend the law ... using every resource necessary,'" according to the Associated Press.

The decision to charge the civil rights division rather than the criminal division with enforcement of the law provoked outcry. Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee accused Ashcroft of "perverting the federal government's role in promoting civil rights." In a letter to Ashcroft, House Democrats said "it is Orwellian that you would have the civil rights division enforce a law which has been essentially found by the Supreme Court to violate the civil rights of millions of American women." Groups opposing abortion rights see gaining civil rights for fetuses as another step towards the eventual overturn of Roe v. Wade.
(Associated Press, "Government Promises to Defend New Abortion Law," Nov. 7, 2003; The Guardian, "Fury at Bush's Civil Rights Policing of Abortion Ban," Nov. 8, 2003.)

Then Ashcroft's Justice Department, claiming that it needed to bolster its case for the law, demanded the medical records of patients who underwent abortions in California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan. The records requested were those of patients of the doctors who brought the suits challenging the law. However, a U.S. Chief District judge in Chicago quashed the subpoenas on the grounds that medical privacy rights were at issue. Illinois has a strict medical privacy law. Then a U.S. District judge in New York ruled that the Department of Justice may subpoena the medical records.

"Critics of the subpoenas accuse the Justice Department of trying to intimidate doctors and patients involved in the contested type of abortion," the Associated Press reported on February 13.

Kate Michelman, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said, "Americans will be shocked to find out that the Bush administration has taken the position that there is no right to medical privacy," adding, "To assert that the government has an unfettered right to root around in our private medical records is beyond appalling" (Washington Post, 2/13).

Every embryo a victim
Then, on March 25, 2004, the U.S. Senate passed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, the first federal legislation giving legal rights to a fetus or embryo from the earliest moments of pregnancy. The bill provides additional penalties in federal crimes.

After Bush signed it on April 1, the National Organization for Women reacted strongly: "George W. Bush and his anti-abortion allies are gloating today because they have exploited the devastating murder of a woman [Laci Peterson] to attack the reproductive rights of all women," said NOW President Kim Gandy. "Giving a fetus--even an embryo--the same legal rights as the pregnant woman will undermine the right to abortion as guaranteed under Roe v. Wade."

In a press release, NOW stated: "The sponsors of this cynical bill have devised a strategy to redefine the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection of the law to 'persons,' which has never been defined to include fetuses. The inventive language of this bill covers "a member of the species homo sapiens at any stage of development." Such a definition of "person" could entitle fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses to legal rights--ultimately, setting the stage to legally reverse Roe."

People for the American Way, a civil liberties group, said that the underlying motive of the bill was revealed when anti-choice members of Congress "rejected substitute bills that would have established a separate crime with equally harsh penalties for violence against a pregnant woman, without establishing "personhood" for the fetus.

"Evidently, anti-choice legislators in Congress are not interested in protections for pregnant women unless they can chip away at their reproductive freedom at the same time. Indeed, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has admitted as much, saying that defenders of reproductive rights 'say it undermines abortion rights. It does undermine it.'"

"We must address the problem of violence against women with increased funding for education and for enforcement," said Gandy. "Any injury inflicted on a woman, pregnant or not, should be prosecuted as a crime against the woman." Gandy argued that the law does nothing to increase protection for pregnant women, who, she pointed out, "are at increased risk of domestic violence."

Safe post-sex contraceptive stalled again
After years of stalling, the FDA finally agreed to hear arguments last December for making the Morning-After Pill a non-prescription drug, like aspirin. (The Morning-After Pill, under the brand name Plan B(tm), is a safe quadruple dose of birth control pills that can prevent conception up to 4 days after unprotected intercourse.) The Morning After Pill is already non-prescription in over 40 countries, but here it requires a doctor's appointment and a prescription, making it almost impossible to get in time. "This is a drug that is most effective in the first 24 hours after sex," advocates point out. "Who can get a doctor's appointment in that time?"

Bush had been trying to pack anti-abortion, anti-sex education, anti-contraception advocates on the FDA advisory committee that hears reproductive health issues. When he tried to appoint W. David Hager chair of Reproductive Health Drugs advisory committee, feminist outrage made him back down. Hager was appointed to the committee but not made chair.

When a combined advisory committee heard the Morning After Pill argument December 16, Hager was one of the few "no" votes in an overwhelming 23 to 4 vote recommending that the FDA to approve the Morning After Pill for over-the-counter sale. The FDA, under pressure from the White House on one side, and feminists and health professionals on the other, skipped one deadline for a final decision Feb. 16 and has delayed making the decision for 90 days. It ordinarily follows the recommendations of its advisory committees without hesitation.

Bush and the "Gag Rule"
We knew Bush was a foe of women's reproductive rights when he first got into office. Remember the global 'gag rule'? Bush reinstated this policy in 2001 as one of his first acts in office. It prohibits any organization receiving population funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development from using those or other funds to provide or even discuss abortion.

The gag rule led to shortages in contraceptives due to large cuts in funding to organizations that refused to sign the rule. By 2002, the gag rule had cut off shipments of USAID-donated supplies to 16 developing countries, because the only recipients in those countries were members of the International Planned Parenthood Federation which lost $20 million in USAID funds because it refused to comply with the policy. Condoms procured with HIV/AIDS funds are not subject to the rule, but critics of the rule say that, in practice, organizations that refused to sign the rule have not been able to get funds earmarked for HIV/AIDS prevention. Hillary Fyfe, chair of the Family Life Movement of Zambia, asserts, "I think they are killing these women, just as if they are pointing a gun and shooting. There is no difference."

Women's eNews reports that the global gag rule "has led to closed clinics, cuts in healthcare staff and dwindling medical supplies, leaving women, children and families without access to vital healthcare services." (Source: Women's eNews, "Report: Global Gag Rule Spurring Deaths, Disease," Sept. 25, 2003.)

That worked so well then he expanded it in an executive memorandum in September 2003, to include family planning funds administered by the U.S. Department of State. Bush's latest action extends the gag rule to all assistance for voluntary population programs funded through the State Department. The Center for Reproductive Rights reports that "this drastic expansion means that more of the world's most vulnerable women, including refugees, will be denied basic health care services." (Sources: Executive Memorandum, "Assistance for Voluntary Population Planning," August 29, 2003; Center For Reproductive Rights, "Expanded Global Gag Rule Limits Women's Rights and Endangers Their Well-Being," Sept. 5, 2003.)

Marching April 25
Reviewing the wide-reaching implications of the "Partial Birth Abortion" ban, NOW stated, "The federal courts and, ultimately, the Supreme Court, may be our only recourse to invalidate this regressive law. Our courts are not yet controlled by conservative extremists, but that is Bush's goal. Right now, the Supreme Court narrowly supports a woman's right to make her own reproductive decisions. By the time the challenge to this law reaches the Supreme Court, we could have one or two new justices who do not believe in a woman's constitutional right to abortion. Once that final piece of the puzzle is in place--and the right-wing controls all three branches of government--Roe v. Wade will only be a memory.

"Women's rights activists across the country are recommitting ourselves to keeping abortion safe, legal and accessible. We will not allow Bush and his buddies to erode our rights. We will take our case to the courts, to the streets and to the ballot box. We will restore women's right to privacy and their access to critical medical procedures; we will march on Washington ... on April 25 to save women's lives; and we will remember in November." (For more information on NOW, visit www.now.org)

Busses from Gainesville to travel to DC for march
Several busses are going from Gainesville for the March for Women's Lives in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, April 25. Tickets for the Gainesville Area NOW and Campus NOW busses are on a sliding scale, $50-80 based on ability to pay. To reserve a seat, write a check to Gainesville Area NOW and mail it to P.O. Box 2235, Gainesville, FL 32602. Planned Parenthood also has busses, contact them at www.plannedparenthood.org

The website for the march is at www.marchforwomen.org

Along with the National Organization for Women and Planned Parenthood, main co-sponsors of the march are: American Civil Liberties Union, Black Women's Health Imperative, Feminist Majority, NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

Assembly for the morning rally will begin at 10:00 AM, on the national mall between the Smithsonian museums (between 3rd St. and 14th). The march will begin at noon. After marching, a rally will be held from 1-4 p.m. on the National Mall.

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