By: NWLC InternPosted on May 7, 2007 Issues: Health Care & Reproductive Rights

by Paige Herwig

If there was anyone left in America who still believed that President Bush was a “compassionate conservative”, his letters to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid  – where the President threatened to veto any measures supporting women’s abilities to make their own reproductive health decisions – made it clear that his definition of “compassion” is pretty astonishing.  Specifically, President Bush cautioned that he would “veto any legislation that weakens current Federal policies and laws on abortion.”  Let’s take a moment to review some of those “compassionate” federal laws and policies on abortion, shall we?

As President Bush’s letters stated, “current federal law prohibits Federal funding for abortion, both domestically and internationally, except in cases of rape, incest, or where the life of the mother is endangered.”  This means that people who depend on the government for their medical care aren’t able to access basic reproductive health services – including extraordinarily poor women and women serving in the military. 

  • Poor women:  Introduced in 1976 by Representative Henry Hyde and reaffirmed every year since then, the Hyde Amendment technically prohibits Medicaid funding of abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or where the life of the mother is in danger.  However, the narrow exceptions often function as a total barrier. And the Hyde Amendment has no exception for women’s health, so even if continuing a pregnancy would cause lasting physical damage or threaten a woman’s ability to have more children in the future, the federal government refuses to help.  Women who have a hard time affording their rent and groceries for their families are forced to divert scarce resources to pay for an abortion, and the time it takes poor women to raise the money they need often forces them to get abortions later in pregnancy.
  • Women in the armed forces:  Military medical treatment facilities are prohibited from performing abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or where the life of the mother is in danger.  In all other cases, women cannot obtain abortions in military medical facilities even if they pay for the abortion with their own money.  This is an especially dangerous ban for women stationed overseas in countries that ban abortion altogether (Iraq, for example), or where local health facilities are inadequate, unsafe or inaccessible to servicemembers.

See here for more information on other women that are hurt by the federal government’s abortion funding ban, including federal employees, Peace Corps volunteers, American Indians and women in federal prisons.

President Bush’s “compassion” doesn’t just extend to American women, though.  His letters reference another policy he’s anxious to continue: the Global Gag Rule.  This rule prevents international family planning organizations from receiving American funds if they provide abortions, counsel or refer for abortions, or lobby for the legalization of abortion in their own country – even if they use their own money to do so.  The impact of this rule has been devastating for countless NGOs that are often the only health care providers accessible to poor women overseas, who are forced to choose between badly-needed family planning funds and their right to free speech (to say nothing of their duty to provide patients with complete and accurate medical information).  But the Global Gag rule isn’t just about abortion or contraception.  International family planning organizations are also on the front lines of the fight against HIV/AIDS, and the Global Gag Rule denies them funding, technical assistance and supplies like condoms from the United States. 

Thanks for the lesson in compassion, Mr. President.