After the initial shock of the recent Supreme Court ruling upholding President Bush’s abortion ban, it’s time to acknowledge the full reality of the decision. According to the
Globalizing the Culture War
Today, Regent, the flagship university of the openly theocratic wing of the Christian Right, has 150 alumni working in the Bush Administration. Their alma mater’s mission: to provide “Christian leadership to change the world.” Overturning Roe v. Wade in the
Since 2000-with one of their own finally in the White House-religious fundamentalists have turned their attention to
That’s why the Christian Right’s first big payback from Bush was the reenactment of the “global gag rule,” which bars organizations that receive US funds from counseling, referring, or providing information on abortion. Enacted on Bush’s second day in office, the gag rule has forced not only abortion providers, but whole clinics to shut down-all of them in the world’s poorest countries, where health services depend on international aid. The UN estimates that by denying women access to contraceptives and a range of health services, Bush’s gag rule has led to an additional two million unwanted pregnancies and more than 75,000 infant and child deaths. Moreover, because there is a direct link between women’s ability to control their fertility and their capacity to escape poverty, the gag rule violates a range of social and economic rights, in addition to women’s reproductive rights.
Sanctifying the United Nations
Religious fundamentalism was invented by US Protestants at the end of the 19th century, but now, there are powerful fundamentalist movements in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia all working to restrict women’s rights in the name of religion. Many of them gained traction during the Cold War, when the
The spread of religious fundamentalism has helped transform the United Nations from a “Godless institution” vilified by the Christian Right into an arena of potential allies, ripe for infiltration. Under Bush, religious fundamentalists have been appointed to represent the
Where other countries’ allegiance to fundamentalist values has been thin, US religious fundamentalists have relied on sheer bullying at the UN. These delegates have felt doubly empowered-as emissaries of the world’s “only true faith” and its only superpower. Over the past six years, the unparalleled global economic, political, and military might of the
Bringing It All Back Home
For the most part, policies such as these did not cost the Republican Party votes because they didn’t impact women in the
We only need to look at countries where religious fundamentalists have gained the upper hand in policymaking to see where the US Christian Right would like to take us. Fundamentalists of different religions draw on different texts and operate in diverse cultures and contexts. But when it comes to their rigid and retrograde gender ideology, they show a lot more commonalities than differences. The Christian Right’s agenda extends to restricting women’s rights to work, equality before the law, education, and freedom from a range of gender-based human rights abuses, including domestic battery and marital rape. And the Christian Right’s “vision” goes beyond attacks on any narrowly construed notion of “women’s rights.” They’re angling for more of the kind of messianic militarism that characterized Bush’s response to 9/11 (which he originally called a “crusade”), and more neoliberal economic policies that promise greater ruin to the world’s poor people and ecology.
So how do we counter a movement that now has millions of supporters, and has spent billions building think tanks, universities, media outlets, and lobbying machines in pursuit of their agenda?
First, it’s going to take more than single-issue politics based on a narrow reading of reproductive choice. In many parts of the world, coercive “family planning” policies that violate women’s right to have children are as much a threat to their reproductive freedom as lack of abortion access. For people everywhere, reproductive rights must be linked to social and economic rights so that every baby has decent housing, enough food and clean water, a healthy, peaceful environment, and other rights enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Bush-for all his pandering about the “rights” of fetuses-is blocking unanimous global support for that Convention. (The only other country that refuses to ratify it is
Second, we need to expand our understanding of “women’s issues.” The attack on abortion rights is just one aspect of a religious fundamentalist agenda that is threatening not only women’s freedom, but international peace and security, Indigenous cultural survival, and secular, democratic political traditions around the world. All of these are women’s issues. Third, we need a new progressive dialogue that makes more room for religious people who are working to counter fundamentalist agendas, fueled by their own faith-based politics.
In short, we need a strategy that recognizes the connections between women’s reproductive rights and the full range of human rights, and between women in the
Yifat Susskind is Communications Director of MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization, and author of the recently published report, “Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy: Gender-based Violence and the US War on