Shortly after 6 PM on Mother's Day—Vice President Mike Pence's favorite holiday—President Trump released a statement marking the start of Women's Health Week, and the world paused to ponder how his administration could possibly be celebrating the annual occurrence."We recognize the importance of providing women access to the best, evidence-based health information and care," it reads. "Ensuring affordable, accessible, and quality healthcare is critical to improving women's health… In particular, women should have access to quality prenatal, maternal, and newborn care."
It's hard to take this statement seriously: In the past month alone, Trump has thrown his support behind a bill that directly attacks women's right to affordable health care and would eliminate essential protections for prenatal, maternal, and newborn care. He has appointed two people to the Department of Health and Human Services who vehemently and openly oppose the best, evidence-based care for women. And, just one day after publicly honoring the inception of Women's Health Week, the Trump administration announced a plan for implementing a drastically expanded version of the global gag rule, a deadly anti-abortion policy that affects foreign NGOs.
Predictably, Trump was immediately besieged by criticism from women's health advocates, who lambasted his statement as insincere and hypocritical. "Donald Trump is trying to co-opt women's health with empty promises and hollow sound bites," said Planned Parenthood executive vice president Dawn Laguens. "There is no way to advance women's health by making it harder to access health care or prohibiting women from turning to their trusted health care providers."Indeed! This National Women's Health Week, which is meant to serve as "a reminder to women to take care of themselves, and to make their health a priority," let us revisit some of the myriad ways the Trump administration has blatantly undermined the right to affordable, accessible healthcare for American women:
Arguably the highest profile and most harmful recent attack on women's health, the American Health Care Act, or "Trumpcare," as it's also known, would have disastrous effects for millions of Americans. The bill—which narrowly passed the House, and is now headed to the Senate, where it faces significant overhaul—was championed by Trump.The repercussions for American women, if it were signed into law, are well documented: The AHCA would gut protections for pre-existing conditions, meaning insurers could charge people more based on their health and medical histories. As a result, women would be subjected to particularly bizarre and cruel obstacles in accessing health care—before Obamacare, rape was considered a pre-existing condition, as were C-sections, domestic abuse, and pregnancy. The bill would also strip Planned Parenthood of funding; eliminate guaranteed coverage of essential benefits, including maternity and newborn care as well as mental health care; make it more difficult for women to afford abortion; and block Medicaid for 14 million people, the majority of whom are women."If this bill is signed into law, the suffering will be widespread, needless, and cruel," said Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal in a statement. "Hospitals will close… families will go bankrupt paying healthcare costs, and women will be charged more than men for coverage that doesn't even guarantee maternity care."
On his first day in office, Trump signed an executive order reinstating the global gag rule, a Reagan-era policy that requires any overseas organization that receives US aid to certify that it won't "perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning"—meaning international health organizations can't even discuss abortion if they want to keep their funding. At first blush, this seems fairly typical, as far as shitty anti-abortion policy goes: For three decades, Republican presidents either keep or reinstate the rule when they take office.However, Trump's iteration of the global gag rule is significantly broader, and significantly more harmful. Instead of merely applying to organizations that receive family planning and reproductive health assistance—about $600 million in funding—it will now also apply to "providers implementing programs for maternal and child health, nutrition, HIV/AIDS (including PEPFAR), malaria, tuberculosis, infectious diseases, neglected tropical diseases, and water sanitation and hygiene," according to a statement from PAI. This will impact 15 times the amount of US funding—around $8.8 billion—causing "unspeakable damage" and "cost[ing] many around the world their lives—especially women," according to Suzanne Ehlers, president and CEO of PAI.Research has shown that implementing the global gag rule actually increases the abortion rate in foreign countries, and it's also linked with a marked increase in maternal deaths. In a previous interview with Broadly, the director of an NGO that provides abortion and contraception services to women in 37 countries spoke about the disastrous effects of the rule: "We estimate that we could have saved 14 lives a day [if we were able to keep USAID funding]," she said. "Or, to put it another way, that's 14 more maternal deaths a day."
Expanding the global gag rule
On Monday—again, the second day of National Women's Health Week—the State Department announced plans for instituting the expanded global gag rule, sparking heated criticism from global health advocacy groups. Ironically, the policy has been renamed "Protecting Life in Global Help Assistance.""Despite the Trump administration's ludicrous rebranding of the policy, the global gag rule is unmistakably deadlier than ever," said Ehlers.
Trump's pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, is staunchly anti-abortion and opposed to affordable contraception. He has twice sponsored legislation that would give full constitutional rights to zygotes from the moment of conception, and he has called free birth control "a trampling of religious freedom and religious liberty in this country." (In the same interview, he said that "not one" woman lacks access to contraception in the US, which is, obviously, blatantly untrue.)Price not the only recent appointee to HHS with extreme anti-abortion views. This month, Trump appointed two prominent anti-abortion activists to the department: Charmaine Yoest, the former president of Americans United for Life, and Teresa Manning, a former lobbyist for the National Right to Life Committee. Both have made careers of spouting misinformation that contradicts established scientific fact—for instance, Yoest has repeatedly insisted there's a link between abortion and breast cancer (there's not), and both women have claimed that certain forms of contraception, such as IUDs and the morning-after pill, induce early abortion (they don't). Yoest has also called the fact that contraception reduces the abortion rate "a red herring that the abortion lobby likes to bring up."
Making numerous high-profile anti-abortion appointments
"These appointments are a stunning example of what happens when willful ignorance gains a powerful platform," Dr. Diane Horvath-Cosper of Physicians for Reproductive Health wrote in an essay for Broadly.
In April, Trump signed into law a bill that would allow states to cut off federal funding from Planned Parenthood and other women's health care providers that perform abortion services.The measure nullifies an Obama-era rule that was enacted specifically to protect Planned Parenthood from the GOP's passionate crusade against the reproductive health organization, and will allow individual states to single out abortion providers and deny them Title X funding for political reasons. (The previous rule only allowed states to deny funding to providers that were unable to provide patients with quality care.) According to Planned Parenthood, four million Americans rely on Title X for essential services such as cervical and breast cancer screenings, birth control, and STI testing.Proving that tone-deaf hypocrisy regarding women's health care is endemic to the Trump administration, Vice President Pence cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate the day after he spoke on a panel for women's empowerment. "President Trump and our administration, I promise you, are gonna work tirelessly to empower women to be able to climb the ladder of opportunity," he had said. "Under President Trump's leadership, the future for our country, and the future for American women, is brighter than ever before."
Attacking Planned Parenthood's funding
On May 4, Trump signed an executive order threatening the Obamacare contraception mandate, which requires corporations to provide no-cost contraception to female employees. Though the ACLU dismissed the order as "an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome," it does worryingly open the door for federal agencies to mandate religious exceptions allowing corporations to refuse to cover contraception—and HHS Secretary and adamant contraception foe Tom Price wasted no time in announcing that his department "will be taking action in short order… to safeguard the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans who provide health insurance to their employees."
Endangering contraception access
Justice Neil Gorsuch, whom Trump nominated to the Supreme Court, has a record on women's rights that NBC calls "frightening." It's unclear where he stands on Roe v. Wade, but other decisions of his reveal a troubling history with contraception and access to healthcare: He ruled against Obamacare's contraception mandate in the Hobby Lobby case, writing that the crafting chain would be forced to "violate their religious faith" if they covered certain forms of birth control. He also sought to rehear a case about defunding Planned Parenthood, "seeming to give credibility to" debunked claims that the organization profits off of fetal tissue, The Cut writes.