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Published on Wednesday, January 24, 2001 in the Boston Globe
What Happened to Bush the Uniter?
by Derrick Z. Jackson
JUST 48 HOURS after his inauguration, George W. Bush, the self-proclaimed uniter, plunged us into contraceptive war. From his new bunker on Pennsylvania Avenue, President Bush rolled out his caisson to cluster bomb abortion. He will block any international aid to family planning groups which provide any kind of abortion-related counseling.

The meanness of it was that no US funding goes directly toward actual abortions anyway. But now Bush, the man who patronized us with his hypocritical, ''I trust the people,'' has returned the country back to the censorship of his father and Ronald Reagan. No family planning clinic anywhere can utter the A word, no matter how desperate the woman, no matter what poverty or oppression she faces from the men around her.

Of course, the caissons were already rolling along. Bush's nominee for attorney general, John Ashcroft, is so anti-abortion that he would not allow it even in the case of rape or incest. Ashcroft has called the 28 years of Supreme Court rulings upholding abortion rights as an ''illegitimate progeny'' that has ''occasioned the slaughter of 35 million children - 35 million innocents denied standing before the law.''

In a ridiculous pandering to the Senate Judiciary Committee, last week Ashcroft said he would enforce existing laws on abortion. No one got the joke. In 1992, when three Reagan appointees helped uphold Roe, Ashcroft lamented, ''So much for recapturing the court.'' When Ashcroft talked about upholding the law, he was actually daydreaming about the day that Bush nominates the deciding vote that reverses Roe in the Supreme Court. Then - chuckle - there will be no law to enforce.

Bush's new secretary of health and human services, Tommy Thompson, announced in his confirmation hearings last week that he will review the abortion pill RU-486 to see if it is safe, even though the Food and Drug Administration had passed it as safe and it has been available in France for 12 years.

During the presidential debates, Bush tried to hide his artillery on RU-486 by saying, ''I don't think a president can'' overturn an FDA decision. He only said, ''I'm worried that that pill will create more abortion.''

Again, the joke was on anyone who took Bush seriously as a uniter. Like Ashcroft, Bush had other things on his mind when he spoke during the debates, such as who he would nominate to HHS to do the overturning for him. In turn, this would be - chuckle - one less method of abortion for Ashcroft to ''enforce.''

As for RU-486 sparking a slaughter of the unborn, Bush was hoping no one checked the facts. France has had only a 6 percent increase in abortions. France's government health agency says, ''There is no relationship between availability of the pill and the number of abortions in France.''

Just as revealing as the speed with which Bush has launched his war on abortion is how dismissive he is of the women closest to him. Both his mother and his wife do not wish to see Roe overturned. Bush, with no concession that women have any place in this debate, said, ''My wife is entitled to her opinion. Whether I do or don't agree with her is irrelevant. What's relevant is, is that how I'm going to conduct my presidency?''

Technically, Bush is right. But in conducting the first hours of his presidency with such a brusque disdain for the opinion of his loved ones, we can only guess what is in store for the rest of us. The thing to remember is that there was nothing close to a national mandate to roll back abortion rights.

In a new ABC/Washington Post poll, 59 percent of Americans say abortion should be legal in most or all cases while just 39 percent say it should be illegal in most or all cases. To underscore how extreme Ashcroft is, 83 percent of Americans say abortions should be legal in cases of rape and incest. Overall, only 34 percent, according to a new Gallup poll, want abortion laws to be more strict, while 63 percent want the laws to remain as they are or become less strict.

In the broadest sense, Americans are coming to terms with abortion. Bush, who has yet to concede that he won the presidency with a minority of votes, obviously cannot accept that on issues such as abortion, he is in the minority view.

He could have been a uniter by biting his lip. By unleashing such a divisive attack in his first hours in the White House, Bush has declared that he believes in ''one man, one MANdate.'' All else, even the opinion of his wife and mother, is irrelevant.

© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company


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