George W. Bush picked abortion, one of the most divisive national issues for nearly three decades, to highlight on the first business day of his new administration. So much for being “a uniter, not a divider.”
Double-speak was the order of the day as Mr. Bush issued an executive order reinstating a Reagan-era ban on federal funds for organizations that perform or counsel abortion overseas. But federal law already contains a prohibition on paying for abortions, and Mr. Bush's fellow Republicans in Congress agreed late last year with former President Clinton to end the “global gag order” restriction on $425 million appropriated for family-planning services abroad this year.
Suddenly, it's 1984, both in the public-policy and Orwellian sense, all over again.
Mr. Bush's action was aimed at three things: 1) reversing a Clinton administration policy and federal law, all at once; 2) energizing the crowd of anti-abortion fanatics out around the Washington Monument, and 3) continuing to mislead the American public about international family planning. The first two were calculated political maneuvers, but how many people know that federal law has prohibited international organizations from using U.S. funds to perform abortions since 1973? By taking away money from groups that support birth control in developing nations, Mr. Bush will accomplish the opposite of his stated intent.
Or, as Peter Kostmayer, a former congressman who now heads the family-planning group Zero Population Growth, put it: “New restrictions on family planning funds will do nothing to reduce abortion around the world; they will only cause more abortions. We know that family planning reduces abortion by allowing women the power to choose when to have children and how many children to have.”
In a statement read to the anti-abortion forces on the Mall, Mr. Bush said his goal is “to build a culture of life, affirming that every person at every stage and every season of life is created in God's image.” But if the new President really believed in the sanctity of human life, and was not simply posturing for his core right-wing constituency, would he have condemned 154 people to death as governor of Texas? Consistency is obviously not Mr. Bush's strong suit.
On the campaign trail, Mr. Bush finessed the political flash-point of whether he would try to reverse Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Some audiences heard him say yes; to others it was no. Just a day before the inauguration, we learned, straight from the mouth of Laura Bush, that the new First Lady opposes overturning Roe vs. Wade.
Mr. Bush ought to listen to his wife on this one. She's obviously more attuned to the majority opinion in this country, which is to maintain the status quo on reproductive rights and not turn back the clock.