Pre-pregnant, pregnant, or retired

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By 2010, the Bush administration's Department of Health and Human Services wants all new mothers to be breast-feeding for at least the first six months. Six months of breast-feeding is a tough proposition for the majority of working new moms because fewer than one third of companies have a private area for mothers to breast-feed, and fewer than 10 percent offer child care.

Renewed emphasis on breast-feeding is hardly the exclusive province of the Bush administration. The World Health Organization has redefined breast-feeding as the "biological norm." Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin wants warning labels on infant formula saying breast milk is more beneficial.

But, when coupled with the president's self-declared "pro-life" position, his court appointees who seem posed to overturn Roe v. Wade, his Food and Drug Administration's refusal to make emergency contraception available, his Labor Department's attempt to stop collecting federal data on women in the workforce, his Centers for Disease Control and Prevention telling all women of childbearing age they should see themselves as pre-pregnant, and his weakening of Title IX enforcement, some critics charge this administration views women as either pre-pregnant, pregnant, or retired.

Late last week, a source involved in the HHS negotiations on the "Born to be Breast-fed" campaign contacted me to describe how the Bush administration was essentially trapped into releasing its in-your-face series of public service announcements. As the campaign was being planned, two approaches were considered. One was "empowerment-oriented," the other based on shock value. Lactation experts in the room decided the empowerment approach was not empowering enough. Then, the New York Times ran an article saying the Bush folks were cowed by two infant formula companies into soft-pedaling its campaign to promote breast-feeding. When the in-your-face ads finally arrived, HHS brass were not happy with them but believed that rejecting them would lead to more criticism of bowing to corporate pressure.

In other arenas the administration seems to have no problem genuflecting before corporate interests (to wit, oil companies, Wall Street), but apparently infant formula companies are more easily "dissed." Whatever! The ads were released at 3 p.m. on a Friday. In public relations parlance, they were "dumped" so as not to be noticed. But women's groups began noticing just as the ads' two-year run was about to expire. And voilà! Another faux pas by the administration.