Reproductive Rights Update

In Washington’s latest attempt to control women’s bodies, President Bush in April signed into law the so-called “Unborn Victims of Violence” Act (UWA). The law states that if someone attacks a pregnant woman, it counts as two crimes against a human being, not one. On its surface the new law seems beyond reproach.

But the UWA is hiding behind a fig leaf of political correctness. The new law de facto elevates the status of a fetus or embryo to a human being. Under UWA, women who choose to terminate a pregnancy, or doctors who perform abortions, could conceivably be charged with a crime, though proponents of the law claim no.

Pro-choice organizations quickly condemned the law for its deceptiveness. Planned Parenthood Federation president Gloria Feldt called UWA an “anti-choice strategy to make women’s bodies mere vessels by creating legal personhood for the fetus.” This was the second anti-choice law in six months that Bush signed. The first, the so-called “Partial Birth Abortion” law, went into effect in November and is being challenged in the courts. At one trial, in Nebraska, a doctor testifying for the Justice Department ended up admitting that the procedure, which is known as the “D and X,” could in some instances be medically necessary in order to save the mother’s life.

And in a capitulation to right-wing groups, the FDA in May refused to approve over-the-counter status to Plan B, the so-called “morning-after” pill. But six states, and 33 countries, already sell Plan B without a prescription. Moreover the FDA’s action came after two expert advisory committees to the FDA had already voted overwhelmingly in favor of selling the pill over the counter. Association for Women in Psychology spokesperson Paula J. Caplan has issued a statement that “The FDA’s Plan B decision represents another example in a disturbing trend of politicization of science by the federal government to the detriment of women’s health.”