Maybe you haven’t heard, but the United States has a new president now. My problem, as I explained to my Republican father many a time over winter break, is not the fact that the Democrats lost the election, but that Donald won. I tend to begrudgingly tolerate conservatives, much how they probably tolerate me and my peers. I understand that the political process in the United States virtually ensures a new political party holding office every eight years. I would be upset about a presidency under Ted Cruz or Ben Carson or Poor Unfortunate Jeb, but nothing compares to this orange comb-over of a disaster.
Donald is unqualified to be president. He is a proud racist, sexist, sexual criminal and an all-around pond-scum of a human being. Mike Pence isn’t much better, so I can’t decide if Donald’s inevitable impeachment will be better or worse for this country. What can we expect from the next four years in terms of reproductive rights and access to abortion and contraception in the US? Digging through all those “alternative facts” can be time-consuming, so look no further than this week’s column for a quick overview of the possibilities.
Let’s start with access to abortion. In the summer of 2015, Donald publicly voiced his support for the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” a blanket ban on abortions after 20 weeks, with exceptions only to save the life of the pregnant person and in cases of sexual violence. His pro-life stance continued throughout his campaign, where he expressed support for “punishing” abortion-seekers, later issuing a rare recant and instead encouraging punishment only for abortion-providers.
If his anti-abortion agenda wasn’t already clear enough, Donald chose Mike Pence, arguably one of the most aggressive anti-abortion activists in the country, for his running-mate. In spring 2016, while Governor of Indiana, Pence signed a bill that banned abortions outright in cases where the motivation was sex, race or fetal abnormality, among other restrictions. A particularly outrageous section of the bill required that any fetal remains from abortion or miscarriage, no matter the stage of pregnancy, be buried or cremated. The bill was blocked from taking effect after the Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Donald and Pence have vowed to appoint only pro-life justices to the Supreme Court, which could affect reproductive rights legislation for generations to come. The much-feared overturn of Roe v. Wade is unlikely, but that doesn’t mean that reproductive rights will be anywhere close to safe.
Apart from legislation explicitly referencing abortion, the new administration supports policies that directly threaten access to healthcare and thus include reproductive rights. Donald has rambled extensively about his plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would threaten access to healthcare for millions of Americans and make birth control financially inaccessible to many. Abortion rates reached a historic low in 2014, a trend which continues and has been attributed to widespread access to affordable contraception. Additionally, Donald wants to defund Planned Parenthood, preventing Medicaid patients from accessing any of the clinics’ services (only three percent of which are abortion procedures). Legal abortion or contraception “on the books” can sometimes look much different from actual, practical access to such services. If birth control is technically legal, but only a small fraction of the population can afford it, the actual legal status becomes less important than accessibility.
Just as I was writing this, on January 23, news broke about one of the recent executive orders signed by the new administration. Donald brought back a Reagan-era ban on government funding for international groups that “promote” abortion. Organizations can no longer provide clients with a comprehensive list of their reproductive options, even if they themselves do not perform the actual abortion procedure. Providing information about or mentioning the existence of abortions is rounded up to “promotion” and organizations can be stripped of U.S. financial support if caught. The “Global Gag Rule,” as it is colloquially known, has also historically restricted international access to contraception and HIV treatment. When the policy was in effect under George W. Bush, the abortion rate in 20 sub-Saharan African countries actually increased because the Gag Rule limited information and access to effective contraception.
Where do we go from here? As we’ve seen in the weekend marches, mass resistance is an effective starting point for change. We must make our voices heard amongst the powerful. The best cure for feelings of helplessness is direct action and advocacy. Volunteer at Planned Parenthood, NARAL, Family Tree or any of the other tireless organizations working for reproductive justice. If you have a different passion, I guarantee there’s some sort of non-profit or group working for the same goals as you. Get involved, speak up, educate yourself, resist!
Next week, we’ll be back with our regularly scheduled programming of wit and sex facts. Questions? Comments? Love letters? Email me at [email protected] but remember that it won’t be anonymous.