This is No Time to Compromise With Religious Right over Basic Rights

Some of the damage done by George Bush over the last eight years was done by executive order and can be reversed by executive orders once Barack Obama takes office. Barack Obama won the election with the highest electoral margin of any non-incumbent running since Eisenhower in 1952, and is entering office with approval ratings as high as George Bush’s record disapproval ratings. This is hardly a time when liberals should be willing to compromise on basic principles out of an exaggerated view of the importance of seeking common ground. In an op-ed last weekend, E. J. Dionne wrote that Obama should not issue pro-choice executive orders once taking office:

Once he assumes office, Obama might be tempted to forget that moment, issue the pro-choice executive orders that the abortion rights movement expects and move back to the sagging economy. But doing this would be both politically foolish and a breach of faith with the pro-life progressives who came to Obama’s defense during the campaign. They argued that Obama truly was committed to reducing the number of abortions. He shouldn’t turn them into liars.

Reversing many of George Bush’s executive orders does not contradict the idea of pursuing measures to reduce the number of abortions while still fully defending abortion rights. Frederick Clarkson showed the problem with Dionne’s approach to compromise with the religious right at Call to Action. He shows that the religious right is not planning compromise many also hope to impose further restrictions on contraception–which contradicts the goal of making abortion rare.

Clarkson uses the global gag rule as an example of one measure imposed by Bush which should be rescinded:

The Global Gag Rule was reinstated by President George W. Bush on his first day in office in January 2001. Officially termed the Mexico City Policy, these restrictions mandate that no U.S. family planning assistance can be provided to foreign NGOs [non governmental organizations] that use funding from any other source to: perform abortions in cases other than a threat to the woman’s life, rape or incest; provide counseling and referral for abortion; or lobby to make abortion legal or more available in their country.

Called the “gag” rule because it stifles free speech and public debate on abortion-related issues, the policy forces a cruel choice on foreign NGOs: accept U.S. assistance to provide essential health services – but with restrictions that may jeopardize the health of many patients – or reject the policy and lose vital U.S. funds, contraceptive supplies and technical assistance.

Our continuing research shows the gag rule is eroding family planning and reproductive health services in developing countries. There is no evidence that it has reduced the incidence of abortion globally. On the contrary, it impedes the very services that help women avoid unwanted pregnancy from the start.

The Bush years were characterized by considerable increases in the power of government to interfere with the rights of individuals both here and abroad. While there are areas where Obama should seek common ground, this is not one of these. Bush, along with the far right views now dominating the Republican Party, have been repudiated and Obama should proceed with reversing these policies without concern for seeking common ground with repressive views.

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