Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Hillary Clinton, lonely in the middle


Hillary Clinton, lonely in the middle
Marie Cocco

February 1, 2005

Hillary Rodham Clinton sure can cause a stir by saying something so old it's new.

As with all things Clinton, the vortex of confused pontificating turns on what, exactly, the New York senator's motives are and who, exactly, she might really be addressing.

So tongues wagged when the former first lady and potential presidential candidate used the recent anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision on abortion to re-state her support for keeping abortion legal - and to promote the common wisdom that both sides in the abortion debate should strive toward reducing our high rate of unplanned pregnancy.

The flapping was, pretty much, all about Clinton's political posturing and the supposed need for Democrats to soften their support for allowing American women to make their own medical decisions. As usual, the palaver served to cloud a dark reality that social conservatives much prefer to obscure.

There is no political common ground to be found when one side of the abortion debate has been running away from the center. Those sprinting toward radicalism haven't been feminists. They're anti-feminists. And they have, with wholehearted assistance from the Bush administration, expanded their fight against legal abortion into an increasingly successful attack on all forms of contraception. Not just for teenagers. For everybody.

The campaign started with the president's first budget, which sought to eliminate a congressional mandate requiring insurers participating in the federal employees' health plan to cover contraceptives if they cover other prescription drugs. Then the White House withheld congressionally authorized funding for the United Nations family planning organization, despite its own findings that the group has no role in China's forced abortion policy, as critics claim.

Soon came the assault on condoms. This included the expunging and altering of valid scientific data on effectiveness from the Centers for Disease Control Web site. The campaign continues with the administration's preference for funding AIDS prevention programs that focus on abstinence only. Abstinence is promoted even among married women and girls in Africa and throughout the developing world who have no choice but to marry young - sometimes against their will.

Federally funded sex education in the United States has largely become the province of the abstinence-only crowd, despite clear evidence that a combination of delaying sexual activity and more widespread use of contraceptives among adolescents has led to a decline in teen pregnancy. The abstinence-only programs the administration favors are replete with errors and poisoned by sexism. One encourages girls to emulate medieval damsels-in-distress in their pursuit of the perfect boy.

Promoting this poppycock among teenagers is, apparently, not enough. In 2003, the administration announced that it would give priority for federal family- planning funds to those health organizations - serving adults - that promote abstinence.

There is, too, the campaign against birth-control pills. Approval of over-the-counter emergency contraceptives - the "morning-after" pill - has so far been blocked by the FDA, despite scientific findings that it can safely be sold without a prescription. And the effort to curtail access to ordinary birth-control pills intensifies. This is being done through the extension of "conscience clauses" that allow insurance companies to refuse coverage of birth control and permit pharmacists to refuse to fill a valid prescription.

"What's left? Condoms are bad. The Pill is bad. Emergency contraception is bad," says Susanne Martinez, Planned Parenthood's vice president for public policy. "I guess withdrawal is still OK."

Who, exactly, is on the fringe? There are just 18 members of the House and Senate, according to a rough count by NARAL Pro-Choice America, who routinely vote against abortion rights but in favor of reproductive health policies that would reduce unplanned pregnancies. That's 18 out of 535.

So we could tie ourselves in knots over Hillary Clinton's political maneuvering and get cynical about some imagined move to the center. But neither Clinton nor like-minded people who favor family planning have shifted at all. It's others who assault modern medicine, and so destroy any chance of meeting in the sensible middle.

'There is no political common ground to be found when one side of the abortion debate has been running from the center.'