Repeal Hyde: Even Republicans Know It’s Wrong to Politick With Women’s Lives

Repeal Hyde: Even Republicans Know It’s Wrong to Politick With Women’s Lives

By Loretta J Ross

I believe President Obama should show strong leadership in repealing the Hyde Amendment that prohibits public funding for abortions for poor women. This would send a strong signal of support to his allies in the reproductive justice movement and we need his leadership on this issue.

In fact, if President Obama helps repeal Hyde, he is merely following in the footsteps of Republican Presidents Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush, both of whom showed strong support for family planning at one point.

In May 2009 in hyping a controversy over President Obama’s speech at Notre Dame University in Indiana, anti-abortionists incorrectly vilified President Obama for being the most “pro-abortion” president in history. They conveniently forget Richard Nixon’s and George H.W. Bush’s support for family planning in the 1960s and 1970s. According to research by the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, President Nixon pledged his commitment for all family planning methods in a July 18, 1969 message to Congress.

President Nixon said: “It is my view that no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition. I believe, therefore that we should establish as a national goal the provision of adequate family planning services within the next five years to all those who want them but cannot afford them. This we have the capacity to do.”

Nixon created the Commission on Population Growth and the American Future in 1970, which was chaired by John D. Rockefeller III.

The Commission concluded: “All Americans, regardless of age, marital status, or income, should be enabled to avoid unwanted births. Major efforts should be made to enlarge and improve the opportunity for individuals to control their own fertility, aiming toward the development of a basic ethical principle that only wanted children are brought into the world.”

In 1970, Congress enacted
Title X of the Public Health Service Act,
 the only federal program dedicated to providing family planning services nationwide. Signed into law by President Nixon on December 26, 1970, supporters of the program included then-Congressman George H.W. Bush.

According to Deborah Friedman, writing in the Planned Parenthood Federation of America publication “America’s Family Planning Program: Title X,” Bush said in 1969:
“We need to make population and family planning household words. We need to take sensationalism out of this topic so that it can no longer be used by militants who have no real knowledge of the voluntary nature of the program but rather are using it as a political steppingstone. If family planning is anything, it is a public health matter.”

Notably, both Nixon and Bush viewed family planning as an issue of fairness, public health and ethics.

Opposition to abortion did not become a political football until the Republicans decided to use it as such after the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, and many Republicans switched their positions to boost their standing in the party’s rapid move to the hard right. George H.W. Bush flip-flopped on family planning to become Ronald Reagan’s running mate in 1980.

Since they are in denial about the historic Republican support for family planning and have used abortion rights as a political wedge issue since the 1970s to build their base, anti-abortionists will never fully support a “common ground” approach for reducing the need for abortions, whatever President Obama does. It is too useful to them to consolidate their base by throwing women under the bus whenever it’s convenient. In fact, Tony Perkins of the religious right organization Family Research Council ridiculed talk about “reducing the need for abortion” on CNN on May 17, 2009 because it assumes that there IS a need for abortion. “We’re going to do away with it. Because it’s wrong,” he said. (I guess if women die, this does not constitute “need” for Perkins. But I digress…)

President Obama may never win over those who consider abortion their number one litmus test for morality and public health policy. While he may never give up trying to persuade them, in the meantime, he is fighting wars on too many fronts. As a result, he is disappointing his strongest supporters by not standing up for the rights of poor women who need public funding for abortion.

Given that scenario, I’m disappointed that President Obama is so firmly in the middle that everyone except centrists are either disappointed or mad at him, leaving him fighting on multiple fronts. Perhaps he is most comfortable battling both the left and the right, but the strategy is questionable to me. As George H.W. Bush said, we need to take “sensationalism out of this topic so that it can no longer be used by militants who have no real knowledge of the voluntary nature of the program but, rather are using it as a political steppingstone.”

The steppingstone should not be poor women and girls, President Obama, who are counting on you to stand up for us.

June 2, 2009