DOJ oversteps bounds

President George W. Bush and the Justice Department are at it again. Earlier this month Tommy Thompson announced a fetus will be classified as an “unborn child” for the purposes of extending federal health care benefits to pregnant women. Although this decision is ostensibly designed to improve prenatal care, many women’s rights advocates are concerned that this move will result in federal protection for fetuses and pave the way for restrictions and bans on abortion.

On the heels of this federal intervention in a state-administered program, the Justice Department has filed a brief in U.S. Circuit Court arguing in support of an Ohio ban on partial-birth abortions. This ban was ruled unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court judge this fall. The Justice Department’s intervention is unusual because it seldom involves itself in Circuit Court decisions, unless specifically solicited to do so. Abortion rights advocates correctly recognize this as an improper effort by the Bush administration to intervene into state matters in their efforts to further restrict abortions.

These recent hypocrisies by the Bush administration should not be a surprise but are nonetheless disheartening. The decision to intervene into a state matter is particularly ironic given the Republican party’s history of supporting a minimal federal role in state matters.

There are 30 states with laws similar to Ohio’s, including Nebraska, whose restrictions were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. If the Ohio abortion restrictions are ruled constitutional, it would ensure the legality of similar laws throughout the country. Opening the Pandora’s box on abortion limitations is exactly what the Bush administration hopes will result from their actions.

Bush’s conduct is troubling for several reasons, primarily because he and Attorney General John Ashcroft continue to disregard the Constitution in pursuit of their agenda. The separation of powers they are so egregiously violating is a keystone to the government of the United States.

Unable to legislate abortion restrictions, the administration has chosen to circumvent a 200-year-old process that has sustained the greatest nation in the world. Circumventing the founding fathers’ ideals is nothing new to this administration. But in this case, not even the guise of national security can excuse their actions.

We can hope that these efforts to subvert the appropriate channels for enacting policy will stop. But the track record of the current administration, particularly the Justice Department, gives us little hope. Instead we must rely on the courts to ignore the administration’s misguided challenge of the court’s sovereignty. The courts must not bow to the political pressure and instead follow the Constitution, something White House officials would do well to consider as well.