When George W. Bush started pushing his “faith-based” initiatives for the federal government during his election campaign, most folks assumed he meant allowing churches to join traditional charities in providing services to the poor. This made a lot of people in and out of churches nervous – would a down-and-outer have to listen to a government-sponsored sermon before he could get a nightly meal or a place to sleep?
It turns out that Bush’s faith in the faith base goes a lot further than church basements or sidewalk meal services. He wants to extend it to health care for women. That’s right. His nominee for the head of the Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Panel on Women’s Health at the Food and Drug Administration believes the solution for pre-menstrual syndrome is Bible reading and praying. Dr. David Hager, the nominee in question and author of The Reproductive Revolution: A Christian Appraisal of Sexuality, Reproductive Technologies and the Family, is also against contraception for unmarried women, and says the common birth control pill is an abortion in disguise.
The advisory panel is no backwater in the government bureaucracy. It often has near-final say over crucial health issues. It reviews and evaluates data on safety and effectiveness of drugs used in the practice of obstetrics, gynecology and related specialties, and issues recommendations directly to the FDA Commissioner. Hager, who now heads a physicians panel at the far-right Focus on the Family, would recommend that the FDA reverse its approval of the medical abortion drug mifepristone (known as RU-486), and take it off the market despite its record of safety and effectiveness. In his book, ideology trumps scientific evidence, and even common sense.
Women’s groups are naturally alarmed about Hager’s nomination, and a large coalition led by the National Organization for Women came out in formal opposition last week. The coalition includes not only abortion rights groups, but a good number of religious organizations like the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and grassroots activists such as the National Council of Jewish Women and the YWCA. In other words, mainstream American women. With their health at stake, it’s only right that they oppose this candidate who is so far out of the mainstream.
With women already outraged about having to fight HMOs for every scrap of medical care and no prescription drug help in sight (most insurance companies cover Viagra, but not birth control pills), this issue is not likely to play well in the November elections. [Editor’s note: this was written in late October.] The prospect of having to fight the religious right for access to reproductive health care, in addition to the insurance lobby, may just be the tipping point. Mr. Bush needs to find another way to pay off the right-wing fundamentalists in his party – and stop doing it with nominations designed to undermine women’s choices and women’s health.
Martha Burk is a political psychologist who heads the Center for Advancement of Public Policy in Washington, D.C. For more information visit www.capponline.org