The Next, Pro-Choice Cabinet?

Now that election excitement has died down, the attention of the politically obsessed
has turned to speculation about who might be tapped to fill key leadership positions in President-Elect Barack Obama’s Cabinet. For the sexual and reproductive health community, the past
eight years has made it clear that we have to worry about much than just who fills
the secretary position at the Health and Human Services.

First, it’s important to remember
exactly how bad the Bush years were for the sexual and reproductive
health community. Tommy Thompson, Secretary of Health
and Human Services during Bush’s first term, advocated
including "unborn children" in the state health insurance program.
After Thompson departed, Bush appointed anti-choice
Michael Leavitt

to replace him, who recently proposed regulations that would "protect"
doctors and nurses from providing abortion services and prescribing hormonal contraception. Let’s not forget that Bush also temporarily
Orr, of anti-birth control Family Research Council fame, to head up
administering the nation’s family planning program and before her Eric Keroack,
someone with a history of opposing birth control, to be Deputy Assistant Secretary of Population Affairs at the Department of Health and Human
Services. Keroack resigned a few months later after Medicaid filed a lawsuit against him. Andrew von Eschenbach,
Bush’s pick for commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, opposed the over-the-sale approval of emergency

Bush’s shredding of women’s
health and rights extended beyond HHS. He signed the federal Partial-Birth Abortion
Ban into law and appointed two judges that voted to uphold the legislation as constitutional.
His attorney general, John Ashcroft subpoenaed
thousands of women’s medical records

in its pursuit of upholding the ban. But Bush’s influence over sexual
and reproductive health wasn’t just restricted to domestic policy.
In addition to his war on birth control and other forms of contraception
at home, Bush instituted a policy that prevented clinics abroad to discuss
abortion with their patients or even accept pro-choice funding. This
later became known as the Global
Gag Rule

Given Bush’s record, the Obama administration needs not only to undo eight
years of damage in addition to taking bold strides on women’s health

The Next Cabinet

Although we’re just days
from Obama’s election, many are already speculating about who might
fill the president-elect’s positions on the highest levels. A few
who have been suggested for the Health and Human Services secretary
position: former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle, National Democratic
Committee Chairman Howard Dean, and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. This
is potentially an important cabinet position if Obama is able to pass some kind of health care reform package, as the HHS secretary would be responsible for overseeing its implementation.
All speculated candidates are pro-choice; Daschle and Sebelius have
both been leaders in the health care reform movement.  

Daschle is clearly the favored
choice, since he has made several policy
his position as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. In a book released this year called Critical: What We Can Do About
the Health-Care Crisis
, Daschle proposed a Federal
Health Board, an independent body for overseeing health care regulation,
similar to how the Federal Reserve is situated to oversee economic regulation. 

Implementing policy that affects
women isn’t just confined to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Since the secretary of state is also responsible for implementing many
foreign aid packages that affect women’s health, the position becomes
vital to the advancement of sexual and reproductive health. Two of those Obama is said
to be considering are Sen. Richard G. Lugar and Sen. Chuck Hagel. Both
are Republicans that have earned a zero percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice
America. Democrats that Obama is likely considering are Sen. John Kerry
and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who both ran on pro-choice platforms
during their presidential campaigns. Kerry seems to be a leading candidate to fill the position.  

Those considered for attorney
general are former Clinton Attorney General Eric Holder, Rep. Artur
Davis, a socially conservative and anti-choice Southern Democrat, and
Gov. Janet Napolitano, who has been congratulated by NARAL for protecting
access to birth control in Arizona.  

Beth Fredrick, Executive Vice
President for the International Women’s Health Coalition, noted that
while politicos speculate about individuals that might fill important
positions, it is important to think about these various departments
as working together. "[Discussions about who might fill cabinet positions]
have been stratified between international and domestic appointments,"
Frederick said. "Department of State is seen as one category of important
appointments for the international side and the Department of Health
and the Department of Justice are seen as important for the domestic
issues. Ideally we’d like to see candidates in both departments have
the same kind of qualifications, similarly we’d like to see it cut across
health and human rights."  

But it’s not just departments
that should think about working together. Frederick notes that there
is an "opportunity between synergy for cabinet appointments and other
appointments like World Bank and officials at the United Nations." Much of the work of State Department is tied to the
work of international non-governmental organizations like the IMF and
the World Bank, as well as an internationalist community like the United

Frederick also notes that in
a shrinking budget, she fears that funding for programs
affecting women might be cut, and heads of programs or departments will
be forced to make difficult choices about how to spend that money. She’d
like to see reproductive and sexual health prioritized as these economic
strains push more Americans onto government
programs. "We need to invest our money wisely," she said. One way
to do that is to ensure women have access to birth control and other
preventative services. 

What is important is to remember
how much damage appointees — and not just cabinet members, but also
lower level officials that might be called upon to administer specific
programs — can do if they don’t have respect for women’s health
and sexuality. They can also do incredible good if they can manage the
departments well. Obama’s choices will resonate with women around the world for years to come.

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  • invalid-0

    I really liked your thread. I thought it was right on topic.
    I am glad that the Bush admin and the rest of the right wing nut jobs are out! At least for the next 4.

    Organic Grog

  • invalid-0

    This is the craziest column I have seen thus far. Preventing someone like Chuck Hagel or Richard Lugar from serving at Secretary of State because they received a zero from NARAL? Is that a joke?

    We face some rather serious issues today, including two simultaneous wars, Pakistan falling apart, an unpredictable Russia, a nuclear armed North Korea, and a destabilizing Iran…And tops on your list is making sure that access to reproductive options ought to be the policy of this administration?

    I find it so amusing that the first comment speaks about right-wing nut jobs while praising an “analysis” like this. I understand that your world is obviously very different than mine, but honestly, do you really believe that this ought to be a litmus test for the personnel this administration decides to bring in? Should the Secretary of Defense also have a positive NARAL rating? What about the director of the DNI because there may be some reproductive issues that haven’t been considered in the defense and the intelligence community?

  • amanda-marcotte

    The Secretary of the State actually has a hand in deciding how foreign aid is spent, and therefore if it is spent on family planning.  No less a SOS than Colin Powell advocated for spending more aid money on family planning services; unfortunately, his ideas were shot down by the Bush administration.  So, I’m afraid it is relevant to the job.

  • invalid-0

    “We face some rather serious issues today”

    Indeed we do. Most of the problems you mention and so many you do not have been created or exacerbated by the xenophobic, arrogant, bone chillingly stupid and dishonest politics which is the present day GOP and their base.

  • invalid-0

    And to what degree does this issue matter to our vital national security interests? You know, the ones that have to do with Americans lives?

    What is most amazing is that given all of the damage that he has done, if the current President had decided that reproductive policy ought to have been a litmus test, then he wouldn’t have taken Colin Powell at SECSTATE in his first term. Instead, he felt (some time ago) that a series of other qualifications were more important…Qualifications such as having someone running State that understood the world, it’s dangers, and the opportunities for the United States. Considering the fact that all of those issues seem to have a hand in deciding the safety of Americans, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that perhaps most sanely minded individuals (both Democrat and Republican) would probably find your qualifications to be irrelevant to the job. Indeed, having spent a great deal of time practicing foreign policy, I can remember no occasion where I sat in a meeting with practitioners and politicians from around the world and reproductive policy was on the agenda. No, we talked about lesser issues such as Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, China, North Korea, Economics and so on and so forth. Maybe had I put that on the agenda our meetings might have been far more productive…like a session at the UN.

    I think what makes me most upset about reading a column like this is that it reflects the state of affairs in this nation–the cottage industries that develop for special interests such as this website. It would be one thing if the author had written about ensuring that there were more domestic policies that conformed with the NARAL agenda, but instead, she’s found a whole new area to try and play in. You call the Republicans nuts, and you’re absolutely correct about that…What about the idea that the litmus test for SECSTATE is whether or not you support abortion?

    People, including the author need to be far more responsible with what they spout out. And while so few people will look at this column, it is a microcosm of the massive problems that both sides (Republicans and Democrats) face with their petty constituencies.

    As for this administration and it’s base, I’m not here to defend it. There is little doubt that the amount of damage that they have done internationally will require a generation or more to solve. What I’m trying to do is to shame folks on both sides into thinking rationally and caring about what matters to the nation…not what matters to their respective employers/propagandists.

  • invalid-0

    What I’m seeing in your post is that you believe women’s reproductive health issues to be trivial and meaningless. Let me remind you that a _huge_ reason McCain and Palin went down in flames (in spite of all the Republican election-theft mechanisms, no less!)is that they espoused that same attitude we’re hearing from you.

    Reproductive freedom and women’s health affect half the planet’s population, and are a vital concern in representative government.

    • invalid-0

      No Catseye,

      The reason why McCain and Palin went down was because of a disasterous Iraq policy coupled with a complete economic meltdown. I’d invite you to read the poll numbers where reproductive issues weren’t even in the top 10.

      Again…It’s all well and good that these issues are important to you. But let’s not pretend that they ought to matter to others–especially when we have issues like war and peace at stake here.

      I care a great deal about reversing the jurisprudence that led to the Roe v. Wade decision (not a federal ban on abortion mind you)…You don’t see me writing a column about how Colin Powell was a bad choice at SECSTATE because he doesn’t support my view.

      Of course it’s your right to use an issue like this as your litmus test. However, it’s my right to point out that such a position is selfish…and it makes you no better than the right wing nuts that would reject Hillary Clinton based upon her NARAL standing.

  • invalid-0

    And it’s the view that foreign policy should be primarily or entirely concerned with military activities that contributes to the neglect of reproductive health issues (and yes, I’d say the lives and health of 50% of the world’s population are worthy of attention). The realist school of thought on international relations is really problematic, IMO, as it completely ignores economic, social and cultural (etc) security. Governments need to take a much broader approach that isn’t solely concerned with the military.

    Iraq and Afghanistan are not a threat to the US. The US, however, is a threat to them. All this saber rattling at Iran needs to stop, as well — diplomacy is the best way to resolve these issues.

    • invalid-0


      Though I am a realist, I am in agreement that there are many problems with traditional realism…the ones that you have listed are indeed a very good start.

      But the issue here is whether or not a pro-life individual should not be considered for SECSTATE. As I said in my recent posting…a litmus test of this sort is just as insane as some right-wing nut that rejects Hillary Clinton because of her NARAL standing.

      With respect to you views on Iraq and Afghanistan, I think you’re viewing this very simplistically. Both were and are threats to the U.S…The question is what does one do about them? In the case of Iraq, there were more pressing threats to the U.S…thus, it was probably a bad idea to respond to their weak provocations given the outcomes that we’ve seen. In the case of Afghanistan, to let them wither on the vine is to invite another similarly styled (and potentially more deadly) attack on the United States. I agree with you entirely about Iran, but stop and think about your analysis with respect to who the U.S. threatens.

      Diplomacy is a wonderful tool that is often not used effectively. But as the Europeans are slowly but surely discovering, diplomacy only works if there is the possibility of a 2*4 striking one over the head.