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Younger Barbara Bush Looks Beyond Politics to Global Health

Six years after her father left the White House, Barbara Pierce Bush says that she is happy where she is now — heading a nonprofit she co-founded in 2008 called Global Health Corps — and that she has no plans to run for office.

Barbara Pierce Bush speaks at a fundraising lunch on Wednesday in Dallas for Alley's House, which provides mentoring, education and support to teen mothers.

DALLAS — At 32, Barbara Pierce Bush is one of the lesser-known members of the Bush dynasty. In a family filled with the politically ambitious — two presidents, two governors, a potential presidential candidate and, likely, a Texas land commissioner — she is one of the least politically active members of the Republican family.

Instead, Bush, daughter of George W. and Laura, said Wednesday she is happy where she is now — heading a nonprofit she co-founded in 2008 called the Global Health Corps — and that she has no plans to run for office. Her organization places people under 30 in fellowships in poor communities in countries including Uganda, Malawi and the United States.

Bush said that by focusing on young people, Global Health Corps is investing in and jump-starting the careers of future leaders in global health. The fellows work to provide health education, build health infrastructure and promote health equity. The nonprofit deployed 22 fellows in its founding year — a number that has increased annually and was at 128 in 2014. 

Speaking to reporters in Dallas before a charity lunch, Bush said she has maintained the same focus she's had since before her parents left the White House six years ago.

"It's been a while, which is funny thinking about it," Bush said. "For me, my life hasn't changed that much in that I’m still working on the same issues that I was when my parents were in D.C. I was really lucky in that I got exposed to people working on global health issues when I was young, when I was in college and I was considering what I wanted to do with my career."

Bush, who lives in New York (and misses Tex-Mex cuisine), was in Dallas, where her parents live, to speak at a fundraiser for Alley’s House. That nonprofit helps teen mothers achieve education and independence. Bush said there is a direct correlation between education and health for teen moms and their children.

In her keynote speech at the luncheon at the Dallas House of Blues, Bush told the audience that she and her sister tried to “veto" her father’s run for the White House. At the time, Bush said they wanted to be “normal” college students. But she said her experience in Washington inspired her involvement in global health.

“Tagging along to meetings, or joining trips with my parents, Jenna and I were engaged — totally enthralled by witnessing policies that were changing lives,” Bush said of her twin, Jenna Bush Hager. “It was through traveling with my parents that I rather unexpectedly got involved in global health."

Bush’s visit to Dallas to speak on global health coincided with news that an area hospital was treating the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States.

“Looking to Ebola speaks to the fact that pressing health issues ... we don’t know where they will come from," Bush said. "We don’t know when emergencies will arise. That means being prepared and proactive rather than reactive.” 

In 2011, Bush made headlines when she was featured in a video with the Human Rights Campaign to support same-sex marriage in New York. Looking back three years later, Bush said that supporting same-sex marriage was a very “personal” thing for her to do, as she had realized she was friends with people who could not get married. 

“I did it coming from a place of dignity, I think — people should have the opportunity to commit to those that they love,” Bush said. “I think the conversation has changed in the United States quite a bit."

While she said she identifies as “pro-choice,” Bush would not take a stance on abortion restrictions passed last year by the Texas Legislature.

“I have to admit I don’t live in Texas right now, and I just know sort of what the sensational news is about laws,” said Bush, a Yale University graduate. "I think it is really important that as we think about any law, we think about patients at the center of it. How can we make sure that any patient or any person is given the access to options they need to live a healthy life? I would say that is more of the framing I’m interested in."

Abortion is an issue that divides the Bush family. Barbara Pierce Bush’s grandmother and the former first lady, another Barbara Pierce Bush, has said she believes in a woman's right to choose an abortion. But George P. Bush and George W. Bush both oppose abortion under most circumstances. 

“My sister and I were raised to know that we should make decisions for ourselves and make decisions that we care about,” Bush said.

Despite her differing views on abortion from those of her cousin George P. Bush, she said she supports his bid for Texas land commissioner.

“He is a remarkable guy,” Bush said. “He’s extremely passionate, and he’s extremely knowledgeable and he’s very committed.”

She also said she would support her uncle Jeb Bush if he decides to run for president in 2016, though she said she has no insight on whether he will run.

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