As the 2008 presidential campaigns rev their engines, sexual and reproductive health advocates are hoping for an executive branch leader who, along with a democratic majority in Congress, will tip the scales in favor of reproductive justice. But, for now, anti-choice activists are leaning heavily on President Bush to safeguard legislation that "protects past pro-life victories." In an unequivocal letter sent to President Bush in April written by Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the Pro-Life Caucus in the House of Representatives, and Congressman Joe Pitts (R-PA), the head of the vaguely named "Values Action Team" for the House, Bush was "urged" to "commit publicly to veto any appropriations bills" that weaken such policy gems like the Global Gag Rule, The Hyde Amendment and Bush's decision to pull all funding for the UNFPA under the guise of strengthening the Kemp-Kasten amendment.
The letter begins by blatantly calling attention to that which, from any progressive's standpoint, is incredibly frustrating. That is, the "long standing tradition of …preventing taxpayer money from being used to fund things objectionable to pro-life Americans." Pro-choice advocates — in fact most Americans — are all too familiar with taxpayer money being used to fund "objectionable" policies. Maybe these Congress-men need to be reminded of the more than $1.5 billion dollars in federal funds for failed abstinence-only policies? Taxpayers have been funding these programs despite the fact that more than 90 percent of Americans support teaching comprehensive sex education in high schools, and in middle or junior high schools.
Many Americans also object to the $30 million in federal funding that crisis pregnancy centers have so far received since President Bush took office. In light of a congressional report released last year detailing the "false or misleading information" that these centers relay to pregnant women, it becomes especially "objectionable" to utilize public funding to sustain them.
Still, the letter was signed by more than 166 members, or one-third of the House, ensuring that any Presidential vetoes would likely not be overridden by a two-thirds majority in the House.
Not to be upstaged by his House counterparts, "God's Senator" Sam Brownback, an official member of the cult-like Opus Dei, crafted his own "strongly worded" missive to the President. The letter was signed by thirty-four Senators, the majority needed to guarantee a presidential veto would be upheld.
Predictably, President Bush affirmed the intent behind the letters, responding with letters to both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stating, "I will veto any legislation that weakens current Federal policies and laws on abortion…or that encourages the destruction of human life at any stage." Presumably, he and his judicial compatriots who are "encouraging" the Iraq War do not count the lives of United States soldiers and Iraqi citizens who have been "destroyed." Again, with the majority of Americans in opposition to this war despite having funded it with our tax dollars to the tune of $500 billion, so far, his statement is hypocritical hyperbole at its best.
While it is easy to play the "tit for tat" game in the world of public funding for policies some Americans find objectionable, there are truly dire consequences. The Global Gag Rule has been extremely harmful to women's health and lives. Close to 80,000 women die every year as a result of illegal abortions; every minute a woman dies in pregnancy or childbirth — statistics that could be reduced by increasing access to funded family planning programs around the world — access that has been slashed by the Global Gag Rule. Rosie Jimenez was the first victim of The Hyde Amendment, dying on the table in 1977 during a botched illegal abortion unable to afford a safe, legal abortion. Low-income women and women of color continue to be victims of a federal policy that places yet another barrier to controlling their reproductive destiny. Meanwhile, teenagers in this country are contracting HIV at a faster rate than almost any other group while we pour billions of dollars into abstinence-only policies.
Anti-choice protestations over public funding for policies they don't like ring hollow against the severely detrimental impact on the lives and health of men, women and youth around the world when we strip funding for effective health programs because of these protestations. We see how the most vulnerable populations are those most at risk when safe medical care becomes a predictable political pawn for extremist, anti-choice voices in our federal government. The 2008 campaign is not just a game of politics it's a race to save lives.