Soon after being declared winner of the 2000 election, President George W. Bush touted himself as a “uniter, not a divider.” He proved this to be true last week when Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson announced the Bush administration’s new classification of a developing fetus as an “unborn child.” Though the plan’s stated purpose is to extend health care benefits to pregnant women as part of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, both sides of the abortion debate agree it is a move to lay the foundation for giving fetuses legal personhood and, eventually, outlawing abortion.
Predictably, Thompson, a long-standing abortion opponent, denied those charges, telling The Associated Press, “How anybody can turn this into a pro-choice or pro-life argument, I can’t understand it.” How he can say that with a straight face, we can’t understand.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe vs. Wade, the case that declared abortion a legal right, operates on the premise that an embryo or fetus is not legally a person. The Bush administration’s position, which was first stated in their support of legislation making it a crime to harm a fetus during an assault on the mother, flatly contradicts that premise.
The Bush administration claims the new classification – which extends health coverage to embryos as well as fetuses – was made to extend health care to poor pregnant women. Currently, CHIP benefits can only be given to pregnant women if the state in which the women reside gets a federal waiver. If Thompson and the rest of the Bush administration truly wished to give lower-income pregnant women access to health care, they should have taken the simple, direct route for extending benefits to pregnant women. Instead, they chose to give health care to the “unborn child,” which the new provision recognizes from the moment of conception.
The method chosen by the White House to launch its agenda is not only devious but contemptuous of the legal system as well. By deliberately ignoring the constitutional guidelines set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court, the administration is creating a situation in which they can have influence in a situation where they currently have none. The U.S. government’s system of checks and balances was constructed by the framers of the Constitution to prevent this sort of behavior. Finding ways around this system by using purportedly innocuous wording regarding what is supposed to be an unrelated issue is unconscionable and, while not overtly dishonest, is not honorable either.
The president, as head of the executive branch, should act in such a way that his respect for the system of checks and balances, in addition to other tenets of our government, is evident. And of all those currently serving in government, Bush should have respect for the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions.