Bush’s Pick a Reminder of What’s Not Right

Chicago Tribune Op/Ed, January 7, 2007

From the beginning of his presidency, George W. Bush has done his best to undermine a woman’s right to adulthood. His latest effort has been to appoint Eric Keroack to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Population Affairs.

Keroack has some unusual beliefs about women and sex: Women who have sex outside marriage, he says, use up their “bonding” hormone, oxytocin, and are unable to form lasting relationships. In a 2003 talk to the International Abstinence Leadership Conference in Las Vegas, Keroack called premarital sex a form of “germ warfare,” and he has said contraception “demeans women . . . degrades human sexuality and is adverse to human health.”

If he ran the country, abortion would likely never be permissible, even if pregnancy could cause a woman’s death.

Keroack also is a major cheerleader for abstinence as the only permissible sex education, despite increasing evidence that teens who agree to abstinence have sex outside marriage at the same rate as other teens–and that they have at least equal rates of sexually transmitted diseases because they have not been educated properly in how to prevent them.

“On the Road,” Jack Kerouac’s novel about traveling the country looking for the meaning of life, ends with his hero musing sadly, “I even think of old Dean Moriarty, the father we never found.” Eric Keroack thinks he is that father, the daddy who, to paraphrase the late singer Phil Ochs, gives us kisses when we’re good and spanks us when we’re bad.

Little girls, Bush and Keroack are telling us, you must have our permission for anything you do in the privacy of your beds and doctors’ offices. And if you do what you want without our permission, we will see that you are punished: We will force you to become pregnant–because we will deny you access to contraception–or we will tell you to risk death if you want to end a pregnancy.

Normally I don’t speculate about the sexual and contraceptive choices of any woman, whether she’s the first lady or the lady next door. But when the lady’s husband is prying into those choices for the rest of the world–deciding whether my goddaughters can have abortions, whether my nieces can have access to contraception and whether my granddaughter can learn that her boyfriend’s condom can protect her from STDs—I am understandably curious about the First Marriage.

Laura Bush has carried only one pregnancy to term in her 29 years of marriage. Has she “demeaned” her body by using contraception? Has she terminated a pregnancy? Has she chosen “the only moral course” and been abstinent?

Not a surprise

Bush’s appointee to head the Office of Population is someone who thinks women are too immature to make fundamental decisions about their own bodies. This is not a total surprise. After all, in 2002, Bush appointed W. David Hager–who opposes contraception and advocates prayer as the only way to treat premenstrual syndrome–to head the Food and Drug Administration’s reproductive health drugs committee.

Bush also appointed Alma Golden—who opposes contraception and sex education—to oversee implementation of Title X, the nation’s only federally funded family planning program. He issued rules in 2002 making a fetus eligible for federal health dollars while explicitly excluding the pregnant woman from coverage. And on his watch, abstinence is the only sex education we fund for public schools with our federal tax dollars.

Bush also has made decisions about pregnancy, birth control and abortion for women in Third World countries. Since 1973, the United States has refused to allow any foreign aid to be spent directly on abortions in any country that receives our aid. However, in 1984, President Ronald Reagan promulgated the global gag rule (also known as the Mexico City policy), which forbids any U.S. aid to go to clinics that perform or even discuss abortions–even if these services are kept strictly separate from other treatment, including prenatal and obstetric care.

Although President Bill Clinton rescinded that Draconian policy, one of Bush’s first acts in office was to reinstate the gag rule. In fact, he expanded its reach by demanding abstinence-only education and repudiation of prostitution as a condition of U.S. aid.

Removal of U.S. aid has had a devastating effect on poor countries. Nations throughout Africa and Eastern Europe have been forced to close clinics because, without U.S. help, they don’t have the resources to provide contraception, sex education or prenatal and obstetric care, according to Population Action International, an advocacy group that supports population programs grounded in individual rights.

Women in rural Ethiopia and Kenya have lost their only health clinics because of Bush’s ideologically driven aid policies, according to The Global Gag Rule Impact Project, a collaborative project led by Population Action International. Nepal had to discontinue its mobile clinics, the only source of health care for its rural women.

Worldwide, some 46 million abortions are performed every year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit organization focused on sexual and reproductive issues. Of these, 19 million are unsafe–performed by untrained people or performed in places dangerous to the woman’s health. More than a quarter of those unsafe abortions–5.3 million–result in death or serious long-term health problems for women each year. These women could have their lives or health safeguarded with access to good clinics, reliable and accessible contraception, or safe abortions.

30 million women

This means that in the six years of Bush’s presidency, more than 30 million women have lost their lives or health because they did not have access to health services. We’re not talking about people who can get on a plane or in a car to go to a neighboring clinic; we are talking about people who don’t have access to education or travel, and who depended on our aid to save their lives and health.

American aid alone could not have saved these 30 million women. But America used to be famous in Africa for the quality of our medical and technical support, according to Population Action. No longer.

Now, with Eric Keroack’s appointment, Bush is trying to bring his foreign travel story to his own country. Which happens to be mine.

I’m tired of this same old road, with these same old men, telling me, my nieces, my goddaughters and my granddaughter what to do with our bodies, while they make up fake science and worse theology to support their ideology.

I want to be on the freedom trail, where women as well as men are adults, where we–not Daddy–decide what we do with our lives and our bodies, and where the government stays out of our vaginas.