Struggle Over Reproductive Rights Heats Up

Since January, the Bush Administration has twice bypassed the Senate to install anti-choice Federal judges whose appointments have been opposed by reproductive rights advocates. On January 16, while Congress was in recess. President Bush appointed conservative Judge Charles W. Pickering, of Mississippi to the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The Constitution gives the President the power to make certain appointments without hearings—including judges—while Congress is not in session. Pickering’s record shows a clear anti-choice agenda; he also opposed the Equal Rights Amendment. And Pickering’s critics point to a decidedly troubling record on civil rights. On February 20, Bush seated Alabama Attorney General William H. Pryor, Jr., who opposes a woman’s right to abortion and also calls for more “Christian influence” in the government.

Four days later, in his State of the Union address. Bush announced that federal funding for abstinence programs (which the ACLU has called a Trojan horse that smuggles in the values of the Christian right) will double. In a less-than-oblique reference to women’s hard-won reproductive rights, he then added, ‘All of us,” he said, “parents and schools and government, must work together to counter the negative influence of the culture, and to send the right messages to our children.” Without even uttering such hot-button words as “abortion” or “birth control.” Bush made it clear that his administration was continuing its war on women.

On January 22, the thirty-first anniversary of Roe v. Wade, California Senator Barbara Boxer (D) and New York Representative Jerrold Nadler (D) introduced the Freedom of Choice Act, which, among other things, would prevent the government from discriminating against a woman because of her reproductive decisions. Simultaneously, the thousands of anti-choice marchers filled the National Mall to listen to the President, who spoke by phone from New Mexico, thanking participants for their efforts to build “a lasting culture of life, a compassionate society in which every child is born into a loving family and protected by law.”

In related news, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in January recommended, in a 23-4 vote, that the so-called Plan-B pill or “morning-after” pill be made available without a prescription. Nearly four dozen members of Congress, as well as some conservative groups, such as the Christian Medical Association and Concerned Women for America, object to the measure. In February, Attorney General John Ashcroft subpoenaed medical records of women who have had so-called “partial-birth abortions,” claiming these files were needed in order to enforce the “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act,” which President Bush signed into law last November.