An old pro-life slogan says, “If it’s not a baby, then you’re not pregnant.” One could add, “If you’re not pregnant, it can’t be an abortion.” Medical and surgical abortions can only be performed on pregnant women.
Apparently that’s not so obvious to President Bush and his minions. The Bushies have cooked up a diabolical new plan to rob women of safe and convenient birth control methods. Legislation would encounter too much resistance. Instead, the Bushies are acting through the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt, a Bush appointee, simply changed the official definition of the word “abortion.”
Abortion is normally defined as the ending of a pregnancy with no surviving fetus. The term includes spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) and induced abortion. The term applies even if the fetus dies weeks before the abortion, or if no embryo ever formed in the first place.
Here’s the new Bush abortion definition, according to the draft HHS provided to Reuters: “The Department proposes to define abortion as ‘any of the various procedures–including the prescription and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action–that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.”
The last phrase in the above quote is particularly problematic. For those who missed out on sex education, a woman is not pregnant until implantation. Conception usually occurs in the fallopian tube, and it takes several days for the fertilized ovum to travel down the tube and implant in the uterus. Before implantation, her body receives no signals that conception has taken place. A pregnancy test will give a negative result. In fact, the only conceptions we know about prior to implantation are those that happen in a petri dish.
Notice that the word “pregnancy” appears nowhere in the above definition. If a woman is not pregnant, how can she have an abortion? In redefining abortion, the government redefines pregnancy itself. Pregnancy becomes the default condition for any woman who cannot prove she isn’t. The new definition does fit the CDC’s April 2006 proclamation that all women between menarche and menopause should be treated as “pre-pregnant,” just in case.
Worst of all, Michael Leavitt’s rule change requires no congressional approval. Like most Bush decisions, it is simply dumped on the American people with no due process and no recourse.
As Hillary Clinton explained in her typically understated manner, “This definition would allow health-care corporations or individuals to classify many common forms of contraception–including the birth control pill, emergency contraception and IUDs–‘abortions’ and therefore to refuse to provide contraception to women who need it.”
The birth control pill and its cousins (Depo-Prevara shot, patch, etc.) prevent ovulation. The IUD prevents ovulation and also kills or immobilizes sperm. Here’s where the Leavitt argument comes into play: Theoretically, these methods have the potential to stop the implantation of a fertilized ovum. Of course, there is no evidence that this actually happens. Gathering such evidence would be virtually impossible.
No evidence? No problem. The Bush administration has never let reality get in the way before. You remember those “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. They must be around here somewhere … along with all the potential children who were never ovulated, never conceived, never implanted, and never part of any woman’s pregnancy.
Broadening the definition of abortion has potentially devastating effects when combined with any future legislation limiting abortion. Many Americans are against abortion, but how many of us really want to see birth control pills banned?
And when birth control pills become taboo, what about breastfeeding? Breastfeeding suppresses ovulation and could theoretically suppress implantation in the same way birth control pills might (or might not).
As Leavitt pointed out when the memo leaked, he is not banning birth control pills. However, he is placing that power in the hands of pharmacists, health care workers and insurance companies. They get to decide what is moral and right for us women.
Clearly the GOP has more concern for some fundamentalist pharmacist’s conscience than for millions of women who depend on reliable contraception. Never mind that birth control pills also treat various menstrual conditions, making life more bearable for so many. Never mind that the pills prevent millions of unwanted pregnancies. Never mind that they prevent true abortions on women who are, you know, actually pregnant.
The important thing is to help the poor, innocent, un-implanted children! Help them do what? Well, get implanted, of course.
Do not construe this goal to include helping the children experience healthy births, access to quality child care, adequate education or some kind of medical care. In the GOP way of thinking, those problems are best solved by individuals. Somehow they believe that females are not intelligent enough to determine when to have children, yet are resourceful enough to raise dozens on our own.
Guess how Leavitt justifies classifying birth control as abortion? It is directed at rape victims. Several states have recently enacted laws stating that rape victims should be offered emergency contraception so they do not become pregnant. Leavitt claims that is just not fair to health care workers, because they may have political objections to filling those prescriptions. The new definition tramples dozens of state laws. According to Leavitt, health care companies should continue to receive federal funds even if they force rape victims to get pregnant.
Who is this Michael Leavitt anyway? He has achieved such an important health position in the president’s cabinet that he now holds power over every womb in the nation. He must be a renowned physician!
Well, no. Before Leavitt went into politics, he ran one of the largest insurance brokerage firms in the United States. Now he is using his position to redefine abortion in a way that benefits insurance companies. Surprise, surprise. As with everything in the Bush administration, this rule change is not about principles. It’s just about money.
Jeannie Babb Taylor is a wife, a mother, entrepreneur and writer in Ringgold, Ga. Her columns appear in newspapers and her blog, “On the Other Hand.”