blow to women's rights behind the mantle of social concern
By Linda Watson-Brown
As PRESIDENT Bush glories
in the messages of congratulation - from some - which will
follow his Son of Star Wars activities, he may give himself
a pat on the back for additional political shenanigans. While
the Bush administration may be presenting its deep desire
to reignite the Cold War and ignore global environmental concerns
as main priorities, the backdoor of the White House must be
ready to fly off its hinges with the slippery manoeuvring
in another sphere. In a further attempt to sneak in additional
anti-choice legislation while no-one is watching, policy has
been drafted which will give states the option of recognising
a foetus as a person.
Apart from writing about
soap operas, there is little I can address in these columns
which will generate as much heated debate as abortion. A
few weeks ago, the issue arose once again. When a woman
decides on an abortion, do we refer to the product of that
terminated pregnancy as a baby, a person, a foetus, an embryo,
or a collection of cells? For some, these are mere semantics
- for others, they represent the absolute kernel of the
But now, from the office
of the president, comes another blow to women's rights.
This time, it may be more dangerous, for it hides behind
the mantle of social concern. Under this policy, the "unborn
child" of an uninsured woman who does not qualify for
Medicaid would be eligible for medical coverage under the
State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). SCHIP
is a federally funded programme which gives grants to states
to provide health insurance coverage to uninsured children
of up to 200 per cent of the federal poverty level. According
to the US Department of Health and Human Services, headed
by anti-choice secretary Tommy Thompson, the purpose of
this policy is to increase access to prenatal care for pregnant
Well, wouldn't that be grand?
Unfortunately, it is not exactly what is being proposed.
While access to prenatal services and comprehensive health
care provision is a laudable ideal, this is not what will
be achieved if this policy becomes enshrined in law. This
Bush initiative is nothing more than a sham to undermine
women and limit their reproductive options. Many states,
such as New Jersey and Rhode Island, already provide SCHIP
coverage to women under a Clinton initiative, and they do
it without granting legal rights to the foetus.
If, or when, these rights
are set, the resulting implications will be enormous. Abortion
could be categorised as murder of the unborn child, with
already fearful physicians and healthcare providers facing
court proceedings and possible incarceration.
In the same week that Bush
gave his support to this initiative, his administration
rejected a call to extend contraceptive coverage for new
mothers receiving Medicaid. The current provision allows
recipients to access birth control for only two months following
delivery. Under the new request, this would be extended
to two years with considerable health and social benefits.
It was not deemed to be appropriate or necessary.
The Bush government has
also, thus far, continued in its belief that the best response
to research indicating extensive levels of ignorance about
sexually transmitted infections is to promote abstinence.
Despite the emergence of figures last week which show that
30 per cent of men and 41 per cent of women in America claim
to have had a partner try to dissuade them from condom use,
the official response is that, again, it would not be appropriate
to engage in further sex education campaigns.
This emphasis on the 'inappropriateness'
of basic health promotion and harm reduction measures goes
beyond any knee-jerk Republican fear of galloping promiscuity
or widespread social breakdown. I believe it can be seen
as no less than a deep-rooted desire to threaten, challenge
and remove women's autonomy in the sphere of reproductive
options. It has little to do with ensuring that children
born into poverty are given a basic safety net, nor does
it intend to replace ignorance with respect and understanding.
This administration is already showing signs that in a couple
of years the US may very well have lots of shiny new missiles
with which to impress hardware-happy enthusiasts, but it
will also have a whole generation of young women without
hope, freedom or rights.