Obama Reverses Bush Course on Reproductive Rights
When it comes to Americans' reproductive rights, it's amazing what a difference one week - and one new president - makes. On Sunday, President Bush offered a final parting gift to anti-abortion extremists in the form of "National Sanctity of Human Life Day." But by Thursday, President Barack Obama marked the 36th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade by declaring "I remain committed to protecting a woman's right to choose." And on Friday, Obama will reverse course on the "Mexico City" policy, the global gag rule banning federal funds from international family planning groups.
For his part, George W. Bush launched the week of anti-abortion protests over Roe with one of the most extreme formulations of his endlessly repeated "culture of life" talking point. Bush's last salvo in the culture wars came in the guise of National Sanctity of Human Life Day, which proclaimed January 18, 2009 as the day for some Americans to denounce other Americans' reproductive rights. Echoing the recently failed constitutional amendment in Colorado (which defined a "person" as "any human being from the moment of fertilization"), Bush announced:
All human life is a gift from our Creator that is sacred, unique, and worthy of protection. On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, our country recognizes that each person, including every person waiting to be born, has a special place and purpose in this world. We also underscore our dedication to heeding this message of conscience by speaking up for the weak and voiceless among us.
But within four days, President Obama made a clean break with his predecessor's rhetorical assault on the privacy and reproductive rights of American women. Obama, who took an active role in reshaping the Democratic platform's abortion plank, reaffirmed his support for Americans' right to choose even as abortion opponents gathered in Washington to protest the Roe anniversary:
On the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we are reminded that this decision not only protects women's health and reproductive freedom, but stands for a broader principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters. I remain committed to protecting a woman's right to choose.
While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue, no matter what our views, we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make. To accomplish these goals, we must work to find common ground to expand access to affordable contraception, accurate health information, and preventative services.
On that last point, the AP reported Obama will also move Friday to end the ban on providing U.S. taxpayer dollars for international groups that perform abortions or provide information about the procedure. That prohibition, reinstated and reversed by each president from Reagan through Bush 43, barred federal funds:
...usually in the form of U.S. Agency for International Development funds, from going to international family planning groups that either offer abortions or provide information, counseling or referrals about abortion. It is also known as the "global gag rule," because it prohibits taxpayer funding for groups that lobby to legalize abortion or promote it as a family planning method.
These steps are just the first in many battles to come for the Obama administration and its allies in protecting Americans' reproductive rights. The Freedom of Choice Act, legislation codifying Roe's protections, will soon come before Congress. And President Bush's so-called "right on conscience" midnight regulation, which declared that the nation's health care providers must retain workers who on religious grounds refuse to provide abortion services, artificial insemination procedures and even birth control, still must be reversed. And to be sure, the confirmation battles to come over Obama's Supreme Court nominations (conflicts in which the Republicans' "up or down vote" talking point will magically disappear) will be fierce.
Still, while George W. Bush has only been gone for three days, it's already been a great week for Americans' reproductive rights.