The Rebel Girl: Broaden the Challenge

— Catherine Sameh

WITH TWO DAYS under their belts, George W. Bush & Co. wasted no time before attacking women's reproductive freedoms around the world. On January 22, the 28th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Bush issued an executive order reinstating the global “gag rule.”

This rule restricts family planning organizations that receive U.S. funding from providing information on abortion services or using privately raised funds to lobby governments on reproductive health issues. While many family planning organizations, both within and outside the United States, can limit rather than enhance women's reproductive choices, this was not Bush's concern.

Tommy Thompson, former governor of Wisconsin and now Secretary of Health and Human Services, is right in line with the right-wing anti-reproductive rights agenda, despite appearing the more moderate of the Bush-Ashcroft-Thompson unholy trinity. Given Thompson's track record on welfare, anti-choice position and new charge as HHS Secretary, women have great cause for fear.

Tommy Thompson's unanimous confirmation speaks volumes about how unwilling Democrats and “moderate” Republicans are to defend women's rights. As the author of W-2, the Wisconsin “welfare reform” package, Thompson was responsible for pushing poor families off welfare and deeper into impoverishment. According to Frances Fox Piven in the February 26 edition of The Nation:

“Thompson will be a strong and effective proponent of extending to the remaining big social programs for the poor -- food stamps and Medicaid -- turned into block grants.”

As HHS Secretary, Thompson will also oversee the Food and Drug Administration, which only last year approved the sale of the abortifacient RU-486. Days after his 100-0 confirmation, Thompson said he would review the FDA's RU-486 decision.

In addition, he is likely to recommend that Bush ban federal funding for stem cell research because aborted fetuses are used, although as governor he supported privately-funded stem cell research at the University of Wisconsin.

In 1993, President Clinton overturned a ban presidents Reagan and Bush Sr. imposed. Currently stem cell research is used to explore cures for debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes and cancer.

Thompson will also administer Title X family planning programs and oversee the Surgeon General, who is charged with protecting and advancing the country's public health.

If a reproductive rights movement remains, it is long past time to expand its agenda and fortify its base to challenge the Bush agenda from the ground. Welfare and abortion rights activist, public health and social service advocates, and those working for international women's rights need to begin linking issues and challenge the privatization of services and rollback of reproductive rights.

Bush and his men are wasting no time executing their agenda. Let's waste no time with our response.

ATC 91, March-April 2001

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