A few days after taking office, Donald Trump delivered a jolting blow to international women’s health services with an executive order to revive the Global Gag Rule, a creation from the Reagan years that will effectively slash U.S. federal funding to every global health assistance agency. The unmistakable goal of this action is to block such funds from every non-government organization that either supports abortion-related services (basically, counseling or referrals) or provides such services, drastically impacting women on every continent. Tellingly, Trump signed this law in the Oval Office while surrounded by white men.
This farce easily embodies the greatest set of challenges that America has known for reproductive rights in over 40 years. In 1973, the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade and further cemented this decision through 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which outlawed any “undue burden” from a state on abortion access. Still, the war between pro-choice and pro-life folks has persisted. Why? Many current lawmakers do not trust women to make choices for themselves and their families. And following the election of Trump and Mike Pence, the U.S. grew ever more hostile towards the right to choose.
Ironically, all of this is happening while the Catholic church is doing what folks never expected by somewhat loosening its own stance on abortion by allowing priests to forgive the “grave sin.” The United States, on the other hand, appears to be regressing back to the 1960s.
Trump And Pence’s Distressing History
Over the decades, Donald Trump’s stance on abortion has dramatically wavered, although he managed to largely communicate a pro-life position throughout his campaign. During the final election debate, he seemingly solidified his stance while appearing confused on the Supreme Court’s role. When Chris Wallace asked him if he would like to see Roe v. Wade be overturned, Trump responded, “I am putting pro-life justices on the court.” He’s hoping for 2-3 new ones, which he says will “automatically” reverse Roe, and “It will go back to the states.”
That’s not exactly how things would work, but Trump isn’t a details guy. He’s into tough proclamations. Trump has no policy background, but he knows what he wants … right now. Unfortunately, what he wants at this moment could adversely impact that lives of millions of women. Assuming he doesn’t change his mind again.
Mike Pence’s history, on the other hand, reveals a long-standing, hard right, pro-life stance, which led to strict abortion laws being implemented in Indiana while he served as governor, including the institution of several hoops for women to jump through, including requiring multiple clinic visits and exposure to anti-abortion literature. Pence also approved increased demands on clinics, which forced several of them to shutter, leaving barely any providers in the state. As governor, he made it extremely difficult to gain an early clinic-based abortion and illegal to do so after the window closed and banned private insurance from covering the procedure.
And that’s not all. Pence, a born-again evangelical Christian, signed a controversial law that would have banned abortions in the case of fetal abnormalities. A federal judge ended up blocking the law after Planned Parenthood asked for an injunction. The court’s reasoning was “that the state does not have the authority to limit a woman’s reasons for ending a pregnancy.” But that pushback won’t stop Pence from doing everything he can to fulfill his promise to Trump voters: To relegate Roe back “to the ash heap of history where it belongs.”
The Emboldened 105th Congress
Another huge wrinkle comes from the stridently confident GOP-led Congress, which knows that the new administration will not rule against their moves. With this in mind, the House and Senate have already laid the foundation to strip Planned Parenthood of funding. They’ve done so despite the fact that federal funds cannot be used for abortions and simply because the organization (which primarily offers a number of needed health services) provides abortion-related services in some states. This legislation will disproportionately affect women in poor and minority communities.
Most recently, the House presented a federal “Heartbeat Bill,” which aims to ban abortion once a fetus develops a detectable heartbeat. Many women don’t even realize they’re pregnant until this point (usually around six weeks). In addition, several states currently require that an ultrasound must detect a heartbeat before an abortion can be performed. (So perhaps in these states, abortion would not exist?) Such a federal bill isn’t likely to pass because it would place abortion out of reach for almost all women and it’s unlikely that it would garner much bi-partisan support.
However, this bill may have been introduced for the same reason Ohio Governor John Kasich banned a similar bill. It sorta appeared that Kasich was doing women a solid, but he admitted that his decision was based upon avoiding expensive litigation against Ohio. Kasich then signed a bill that bans abortions after 20 weeks, which is a restriction also held in 15 other states. This could be the ultimate goal for the federal Heartbeat Bill’s introduction — to essentially loosen the ground for another day.
Not only is abortion under attack, but also contraceptive coverage by insurance providers, which will include whatever Obamacare replacement plan the GOP and Trump manage to push through. Some have argued — and this comes from fans of talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who views contraceptive coverage as “being paid to have sex” — that birth control pills (along with IUDs and other methods) should not receive insurance coverage. This, of course, is not an intuitive approach for a few reasons: (1) The pill can only be taken by doctor prescription, so it arguably falls under the “health care” umbrella; (2) Many women are prescribed birth control pills to treat or relieve symptoms of other medical conditions, such as endometriosis.
The GOP doesn’t appear to understand these twin categories, though.
States’ Increasing Hostility Toward Reproductive Rights
Here’s the thing — between 2000 and 2014 — an increasing number of states have grown “hostile” to abortion. Over at the Guttmacher Institute, an infographic shows the current state of hostile states. In 2000, this included 13 hostile states; in 2010, the number bounced to 22; and in 2014, the number jumped to 27 with 18 states being considered “extremely hostile.”
In order to qualify for the beginning threshold of being “hostile” towards reproductive rights, a state must provide barriers to abortion access, including added restrictions on how abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood are funded and must operate. These requirements generally stand unless the Supreme Court strikes them down (we saw this last year in Texas, which placed “undue restrictions” on clinics that were ultimately forced to shutter). The effects of the stances are mind-boggling in a country where abortion remains legal.
19 states passed restrictions on abortions in 2016. This includes Texas, which was not deterred by a Supreme Court ruling that determined the state was guilty of placing “undue restrictions” on clinics, which forced several of them to close. Despite SCOTUS’ decision, much damage had been done with those clinics largely being unable to recover and reopen. And even in the aftermath of the state’s loss, Texas still passed a law requiring cremation or burial for aborted fetuses. It also defunded Planned Parenthood, which provided low-cost contraceptives and family planning services — along with STD and cancer screening and treatment — services for low-income women.
Hope For Some And An Example For All
On the Saturday after Donald Trump’s inauguration, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made the bold move of protecting insurance coverage of contraception and medically necessary abortions. His announcement arrived — due to no sheer coincidence — on the same day that millions of women marched in cities nationwide to protest Trump’s presidency.
Thus, most birth control methods will be provided at no cost to the state’s insured citizens. The move is seen as a safeguarding one and a preventative measure against Congress and the Trump-Pence administration’s anticipated tactics. New York takes a progressive approach so that federal law will not disrupt current coverage, as detailed by the New York Times:
Beyond preserving parts of the Affordable Care Act, the state will now also require insurers to cover a three-month supply of contraception the first time a woman obtains it, and then a supply for up to 12 months, at no cost. At the moment, only a one-month supply at a time is typically available. And abortions deemed medically necessary by a doctor will no longer be subject to co-payments or annual deductibles.
“Women deserve to make a fair wage and the same salary as any man, they deserve to work in an office free of sexual harassment, they deserve comprehensive paid family leave and they deserve control over their health and reproductive decisions,” Mr. Cuomo said.
Likewise in New York, Cuomo’s move will preserve existing reproductive health policies for millions, including any contraception that a medical provider deems to be medically necessary under existing coverage. The governor also penned a CNN op-ed where he stressed how equal rights must extend to women’s health, and he called upon other states to follow his lead:
We are entering a new political era in which women across the country may feel that their reproductive rights will be threatened, and all states — not just New York — will have an opportunity to take the lead in improving the status of women through their respective legislatures.
As we are doing in New York, governors and state legislatures now have the opportunity and the duty, through executive orders and legislation, to protect reproductive rights, close the wage gap and combat sexual violence … [W]e must guarantee women all the rights given to men, and we must create the conditions for women to be able to participate in a workforce historically dominated by men … They also deserve the right to control their health and reproductive decisions and to receive paid family leave when they have children.
It’s only been a few weeks since the 105th Congress made their intentions on reproductive rights known, yet the new, frightening normal for women seems almost commonplace already. It’s no wonder that Planned Parenthood’s IUD demand skyrocketed by 900% in the few months since the election. Some women are worried that they’ll accidentally become pregnant and won’t have access to an abortion. Others fear the pill will no longer be available. How did we backtrack so far, so fast?
In comparison to the new Congressional and executive moves, Cuomo’s statements seem almost revolutionary, as sad as it seems. Some might even suspect he’s auditioning for a 2020 Democratic nomination, but for now, he’s governor of a highly visible state. New York will grab attention no matter what it does, and Cuomo knows folks are watching, but other states have already made similar moves. California, Illinois, Maryland, and Vermont have all recently moved to preserve Obamacare regulations for contraceptives.
Perhaps this warring trend will spread to other states, but they’d better move fast. The current legislative and executive branches are making their moves, and if Trump has his way, the Supreme Court won’t be far behind after a few appointments. Otherwise, reproductive rights could be effectively dismantled, and women will be living in the land of back-alley abortions once again in 2017.