The Real Problem With What Jeb Bush Said About Women's Health Care

Photo: MediaPunch/REX USA
On Tuesday, while addressing a conservative Christian audience in Tennessee, presidential hopeful Jeb Bush made an off-the-cuff comment about federal money spent on women's health care. "I’m not sure we need a half a billion dollars for women’s health issues," he told the crowd — and though this comment was more of a flippant aside than the meat of his statement, it struck a chord.

Less than a day later — in the roiling aftermath of his comment — Bush distanced himself from those words. "With regards to women's health funding broadly, I misspoke," the official statement on his website reads, "as there are countless community health centers, rural clinics, and other women's health organizations that need to be fully funded."

It's been a particularly agitating week for women's health advocates — as well as for women, in general. Bush's comment was only one small part of that frustration, and yet, what he said has stuck. The truth is that it's not difficult to believe that the former Florida governor verbally fumbled. He does that often. What is hard to believe, though, is that suddenly he's done a turnabout with respect to women's reproductive rights, as Bush doesn't have a good track record on those issues.

"I don't know why we're so surprised," noted former New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Kathy Sullivan on a press-conference call today. "His policy is shame-and-blame, and gutting funding for health services." During Bush's two terms as governor of Florida, she added, his record unambiguously aligned with his comment from earlier this week: His legacy from that time includes the so-called Scarlet Letter law, which required unwed pregnant women to publish their sexual histories in the paper before they could give their babies up for adoption. He eventually backpedaled on that bill, too.

Flip-flopping on supporting and respecting women's rights is a frightening quality in a politician, especially one who hopes to guide policy across the entire nation. What Bush said this week was far more than a misstatement: It was a peek into the way his brain works. Freudian slips are far more revealing than perfectly planned speeches meant to court a constituency, and the fact that he made this comment bodes poorly for women — and men — in the USA.

These little glimpses of unfettered honesty from Republican candidates have cropped up with some frequency over the past few weeks, in anticipation of the first GOP debate on Thursday. What we're seeing are the true colors of these candidates. And they are not just red, white, and blue.

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