The War on Women’s Health

by Jarek Ervin

It’s no secret that Trump’s presidency will be disastrous for women. This is  especially true where healthcare is concerned. Beyond his own disturbing history of lewd comments and reported abuses of women, Trump’s campaign promises suggested he would go on an anti-woman legislative warpath. Despite positioning himself as an outsider while on the trail, his vision was poached right from the GOP’s anti-woman playbook. He promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act; called for the elimination of government support for groups like Planned Parenthood; vowed to appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the US; and teamed up with Mike Pence, who as governor of Indiana proved to be one of the most notorious anti-abortion politicians in US history.

Since stepping into office on January 20, Trump has been proving that his threats were no idle talk. Just days after his inauguration, he reinstated a Reagan era policy, the so-called “global gag rule,” which prevents the US from funding any international NGOs that provide abortions. Trump also has appointed Tom Price as secretary of Health and Human Services. An aggressive opponent of abortion, Price currently holds a “0” rating from Planned Parenthood. He has made it clear that his tenure will be dedicated to demolishing the Affordable Care Act, and is expected to target provisions for preventative care that are overwhelmingly used by women.

It goes without saying that all of such policies, beyond a violation of a woman’s autonomy over her body, pose potentially disastrous consequences for health care in the US more generally. The Hyde Amendment–which Trump hopes to turn into a constitutional law–will target all publically funded institutions providing health services. Such restrictions could poke holes in programs like the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, and Medicaid or even hinder the ability of clinics to provide basic medical services.

Planned Parenthood itself provides far more than abortion services, for which it already receives no federal funding. Women’s health clinics are often the best sources for all manner of medical care, from routine exams to cancer screenings, STD and HIV testing, counseling, and maternity support. Such restrictions stand to disproportionately affect working class people, young people, women of color, immigrants, and LGBTQ people. For this reason, it is better to think of anti-abortion legislation less as an attack on the right to choose than on basic human dignity.

Thankfully, Pennsylvania is immune to “trigger laws.” These presently unenforceable anti-abortion laws predate the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, and would launch back into effect if it were overturned. Were that the case, many states would suddenly have new restrictions on such services, and abortion would become completely illegal in four states. Despite Pennsylvania having no such laws, Trump’s war on women still threatens to reach Philadelphia. The state currently upholds many policies designed to limit a woman’s access to abortion care. These laws include restrictions on coverage of abortions by the Affordable Care Act, required parental consent for minors, and state-directed counseling designed to intimidate and discourage women from exercising their right to choose. Many of these rules grow out of the state’s 1989 Abortion Control Act, a bill designed to curtail a women’s right to choose. Though that bill was struck down by the 1992 Supreme Court ruling Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, its components linger in state law. And future courts could easily pave the way for newer, more draconian bills in its spirit.

Philadelphia itself faces great risks. A small but important network of women’s health clinics largely forms the primary means for women to access basic medical care. In the city alone, 91,000 women are served by Planned Parenthood. But there are many other groups who provide for women’s healthcare. The Philadelphia Women’s Center and The Helen O. Dickens Center for Women’s Health offer dozens of services to women in Philadelphia. The city also maintains a number of health centers that attend to women’s medical needs; they provide sliding scale payment options for low income uninsured women. Even the Mazzoni Center, which provides health and well-being services to LGBTQ people, could potentially to be affected by such legislation. These and many other organizations all could find themselves the targets of reactionary forces of all stripes.

In the post-election panic women have rushed to get preventative care such as Intrauterine Devices (IUD) or Nexplanon–a similar implant that is inserted into the arm. In January, Planned Parenthood reported that they have seen a 900% increase in women seeking such services. They also report a wave of private donations aiming to offset funding that may otherwise disappear. Within a week of Trump’s election, Planned Parenthood reported that they had received 80,000 contributions. As positive as it is to see community support and awareness of risks, the need to resort to such measures is troubling. Restrictions on availability of abortion services and medical care risk a return to pre-Roe v. Wade conditions. A reliance on unregulated, illegal services and a healthcare system further partitioned between the wealthy and the poor threatens to become the new normal.

There are signs of hope. Healthcare has been front-and-center in the ongoing opposition to Trump. Concerns over his anti-women agenda powered much of the momentum behind the counter-Inauguration and the Women’s March of January 20 and 21. Here in Philadelphia, over 400 people turned out for the 2017 Planned Parenthood Action Forum, a January 25 protest that coincided with the GOP Retreat here in the city. Opposition to Trump’s war on women will also be front-and-center at the International Women’s Day Protest, hosted by a coalition of groups including Philly Socialists and Socialist Alternative.

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