Before he became president, Donald Trump described himself as pro-choice. Now, he can’t do enough to deny women control of their own bodies. Marching in lockstep with Vice President Mike Pence and some of the most anti-choice members of his right-wing coalition, Trump has gone global in his crusade, watering down a United Nations Security Council resolution aimed at stopping rape and sexual violence in war. His acting U.N. ambassador threatened to veto any resolution containing language referring to “reproductive health.” The goal of the demand, most observers agree, is to ensure that women who are raped in war should not receive any help terminating pregnancies. This episode is just the most recent in the accelerating and increasingly successful campaign to criminalize abortion, waged by a vocal, well-funded minority in this country.
For close to half a century, the right to a safe, legal abortion has been guaranteed by the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision. For many years, the divided court consistently reaffirmed Roe v. Wade. With the surprise retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, though, and his replacement with controversial, conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the balance on the court has shifted markedly to the right, and the future of Roe is entirely uncertain.
Confident that the current Supreme Court would now overturn Roe v. Wade if given a chance, anti-choice activists and their allies in Republican-controlled state legislatures are pushing a new wave of anti-abortion bills. This will set the stage, they hope, for a Supreme Court decision eliminating a woman’s right to privacy and to make her own health care decisions, enshrined in Roe v. Wade.
“The extreme nature of this year’s bills is unprecedented,” the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute noted in a recent report. “Legislation under consideration in 28 states would ban abortion in a variety of ways.” Among the slew of strategies employed are trigger bans, which would make abortion completely illegal in a state should Roe be overturned; gestational age bans, which make abortion illegal after a fetus has gestated six, 12 or 18 weeks, or some other length of time (these are often referred to as “fetal heartbeat” bills); reason bans, which bar abortions for reasons of a fetus’s sex, race or disability; and method bans, which bar certain types of abortion procedures.
Add to that the TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws that impose extraordinary, cumbersome regulations, which the majority of small clinics cannot afford to follow. These laws don’t enhance patient safety, but force facilities that provide abortions to meet an array of onerous conditions like having corridors of a certain width and exam rooms of a specific size. The financial costs of meeting these arbitrary regulations often force clinics to shut down.
While over two-thirds of Americans are pro-choice, anti-choice activists have the edge in state governments, with Republicans controlling roughly two-thirds of statehouses and 27 of the country’s 50 governorships. But progressive legislators in some states are pushing bills to protect access to safe, legal abortion, enhance availability of contraception and expand sex education. Likewise, federal courts continue to strike down the most egregious and unconstitutional efforts to control women’s reproductive health decisions.
Recently, Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services issued what pro-choice advocates call the “Title X gag rule,” barring physicians from giving patients the full range of options when considering reproductive health. In Oregon on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Michael J. McShane issued a preliminary injunction against the gag rule, calling it a “ham-fisted approach to public health policy.”
Dr. Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said of McShane’s ruling: “While this is a victory for patients and doctors, this relief is preliminary, and we will continue to fight the Trump-Pence administration in court and in Congress to ensure our patients’ health and rights are protected.”
Back at the United Nations, the Trump-Pence administration has expanded the anti-choice agenda globally by removing any reference to “sexual and reproductive health” from the U.N. Security Council’s resolution on conflict-related sexual violence. Outraged at the U.S. position, France’s U.N. ambassador said, “It is intolerable and incomprehensible that the Security Council is incapable of acknowledging that women and girls who suffered from sexual violence in conflict, and who obviously didn’t choose to become pregnant, should have the right to terminate their pregnancy.” The U.S. administration also removed the word “gender” from the resolution, and weakened references to the International Criminal Court, making it harder for women and girls to seek justice.
Donald Trump himself has been accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault by no less than 16 women. Is this really the world leader who should be shaping global policy on sexual violence?