Running for the White House in the fall of 2000, George W. Bush did not talk about ending the right to abortion. To avoid scaring off moderate voters, he promoted a larger "reverence for life" agenda that also included adoption and tougher drunken driving laws. Voters were encouraged to believe that while Mr. Bush was anti-choice, he was not out to reverse Roe v. Wade.
Yet two years into the Bush presidency, it is apparent that reversing or otherwise eviscerating the Supreme Court's momentous 1973 ruling that recognized a woman's fundamental right to make her own childbearing decisions is indeed Mr. Bush's mission. The lengthening string of anti-choice executive orders, regulations, legal briefs, legislative maneuvers and key appointments emanating from his administration suggests that undermining the reproductive freedom essential to women's health, privacy and equality is a major preoccupation of his administration — second only, perhaps, to the war on terrorism.
As the 30th anniversary of the Roe decision approaches, women's right to safe, legal abortions is in dire peril.
President Bush's assault on reproductive rights is part of a larger ongoing cultural battle. If abortion were the only target, the administration would not be attempting to block women's access to contraceptives, which drive down the number of abortions. His administration would not be declaring war on any sex education that discusses ways, beyond abstinence, to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Scientifically accurate information about contraceptives and abortion would not have begun disappearing from federal government Web sites.
A big thrust of Mr. Bush's aggressive anti-choice crusade has been to undermine the legal foundation of the Roe decision by elevating the status of a fetus, or even a fertilized egg, to that of a person, with rights equal to, or perhaps even exceeding, those of the woman. This desire to recognize the personhood of zygotes is part of the rationale behind the Bush policy prohibiting federal financing for research on all new embryonic stem-cell lines, despite the hopes that this research could lead to breakthroughs in treatments for diseases like Parkinson's, cancer and diabetes. Tommy Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, was following the same drumbeat when he made "unborn children" rather than pregnant women eligible for coverage under the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Mr. Bush has begun packing the judiciary with individuals whose hostility to Roe v. Wade matches his own and that of his famously anti-choice attorney general, John Ashcroft. In Congress, he backs a radical measure called the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, which would further reduce the already thin availability of abortion services. It would allow government-supported health care providers to decline to include abortion in their reproductive health services. The providers could even forbid their doctors from mentioning abortion as a legal option to female patients.
Unsurprisingly, Mr. Bush is also a strong supporter of the other pending anti-choice initiatives, including the ban on so-called partial-birth abortions. Like so much of the president's policy on this issue, the ban masquerades as a modest initiative that has wide popular support — eliminating already rare late-term abortions — while its actual effects are far more sweeping. This effort to criminalize certain abortion procedures would actually restrict a woman's right to choose abortion by the safest method throughout pregnancy. So concluded the current Supreme Court, hardly a bastion of liberal abortion rights sympathizers, when it rejected an earlier version nearly three years ago.
The effects of the new anti-choice agenda are also affecting women abroad. On his very first day on the job, the president reimposed the odious global "gag" rule first instituted by President Ronald Reagan, then lifted by President Bill Clinton in January 1993. It bars health providers receiving American family planning assistance from counseling women about abortion, engaging in political speech on abortion or providing abortion services, even with their own money.
In resurrecting the gag rule, the new president broadcast a disdain for freedom of speech to emerging democracies, while crippling the international family planning programs that work to prevent hundreds of thousands of infant and maternal deaths worldwide each year.
Most Americans would be shocked at the lengths American representatives are going to in their international war against women's right to control their bodies.
Last year, Bush administration delegates to the United Nations Special Session on Children tried to block a plan to promote children's well-being and rights, taking offense at language promising "reproductive health services." This same crackerjack delegation also opposed special efforts to help young girls who are victims of war crimes — which most often means rape. The delegates were worried that the measure would be construed to provide these victims with information about emergency contraception or abortion.
The administration's anti-choice obsession has also prompted it to freeze millions of dollars in financing for valuable programs run by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Population Fund to advance reproductive health and combat H.I.V. and AIDS.
On the surface, the Bush administration's war against women's rights is a series of largely unnoted changes. It is intended to look that way. In reality, it is a steady march into the past, to a time before Roe v. Wade, when abortion was illegal and pregnancy was more a matter of fate than choice.
People can debate whether Mr. Bush's various efforts to dismantle Roe and block women's right to choose around the globe flow from his own deeply felt moral or religious beliefs, or merely cater to extreme elements within his party. What is important is the actual impact of the presidential assault: women's constitutional liberty has been threatened, essential reproductive health care has been denied or delayed, and some women will needlessly die.