President Donald Trump Wages War On Women’s Health
Women’s bodies have spent centuries existing as a political battleground, and today is no different
On Friday, October 6th, five days after the largest mass-shooting in modern history, the Trump administration proved exactly where their priorities lie by rolling back the federal requirement for employers to cover birth control in their health insurance plans.
This contraceptive coverage mandate, enacted by the Obama administration under the Affordable Care Act, allowed more than 55 million women to acquire birth control without copayments. I am one of them. The ACA required all insurers and group plans to cover FDA-approved contraceptive methods free of charge, with few exceptions — mainly limited to religious groups and churches.
Now, the GOP and the Trump administration have dealt a scathing blow to the millions of women who benefit from this mandate, by vastly expanding such exceptions to include publicly traded companies and organizations that claim they have intense religious or moral objections to contraception.
This comes on the heels of a myriad of other attacks on family planning, children, and women’s health services. Previously this year, the House of Representatives voted to cut funding for Title X, which supports family planning clinics in low-income areas. And three days before these ACA rollbacks were announced, the House passed a ban on most late-term abortions — a bill which faces near-certain defeat in the Senate.
Limiting access to birth control has neither economic gain nor health benefit. In fact, rolling back regulations such as this are likely to have negative fiscal ramifications and increase the rate of unplanned, unwanted pregnancies. This move has proved one thing, and one thing only.
The GOP and the Trump Administration are waging a war on women.
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A History Of Limited Contraception Access
Birth control has never been easy to come by in this country. In the late 19th century, a man named Anthony Comstock launched a “decency crusade,” originally focusing on the banning of any and all erotic text in Manhattan. His first successful case in 1872 galvanized his mission, and he began to lobby for stronger anti-obscenity laws. With the power of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) behind him — for they had promoted him to secretary of their organization the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice — he was able to establish what would later become known as the Comstock Act.
The Comstock Act, also known as the “Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use” initially proved to be a powerful censor, setting precedent for the banning of copious media related to sexual education and health. This included medical documents that referenced abortion, art or literature containing or referencing nudity, and any information regarding contraception.
Until the Comstock Act was amended in 1971 to no longer include birth control in its jurisdiction, it was illegal to simply share knowledge about contraception. As we all know, limiting access to knowledge is always a hallmark of a less-than-Democratic society.
Despite the illegality of it, in 1916, Margaret Sanger and her sister Ethel Byrne opened up the first birth control clinic in the U.S. According to Sanger, she had become involved in the movement after, when working as a nurse in a poor area, she saw a patient die from a self-induced abortion. After this event, Sanger wrote,
“I resolved that women should have knowledge of contraception. They have every right to know about their own bodies. I would strike out. I would scream from the housetops. I would tell the world what was going on in the lives of these poor women. I would be heard. No matter what it should cost, I would be heard.”
Less than two weeks after the clinic’s opening, it was raided by police and the women were arrested. Byrne was convicted, and sentenced to serve time in a workhouse. The judge at Sanger’s case, while arguing that medically necessary birth control shouldn’t be considered obscene also noted that women do not have “the right to copulate with a feeling of security that there will be no resulting conception.”
It’s important to remember at this point that the main argument against access to contraception was a religious one. Birth control was thought to be unnatural, and therefore against God’s will. It was also considered a selfish choice, where women who chose to limit their families were “depriving the nation of its future workforce.”
In the 1930s, Pope Pius XI called using birth control “a grave sin” and reinforced that it was against God’s plan. New York City’s Archbishop Hayes claimed women who sought birth control were effectively depriving potential human life from existing. He considered them worse than those who had abortions, calling the use of contraception “satanic.”
Remnants of these religiously based imperatives are still increasing prevalent in the modern debate surrounding birth control.
In 1938, a judge finally lifted the federal obscenity ban enacted by the Comstock Act, thereby protecting the right to “provide contraceptive information and service under medical direction,” as explained by Sanger herself in an op-ed to The New Republic.
“It is one of the anomalies of modern civilization that the forces of bigotry, reaction and legalism could so long have kept on the federal statute books a law that classed contraceptive information with obscenity and was interpreted to prevent physicians from prescribing contraceptives. Year after year this vicious law legally tied the hands of reputable physicians, while quacks and purveyors of bootleg contraceptives and “feminine hygiene” articles and formulas flourished. It was an absurd situation in which the federal law in effect nullified the laws of practically every state.”
In the 1950s, at the behest of Sanger, biologist Gregory Pincus started working on what would become known as “the Pill.” The FDA approved the use of oral contraceptives in 1960, and the Supreme Court gave married couples the right to acquire it in 1965. Unmarried women weren’t allowed to legally access birth control until 1972, after the ruling of Eisenstadt v. Baird.
As of September 2016, more than 99% of women ages 15–44 have used at least one method of contraceptive in their lives. Of the 61 million women in this age range in the U.S., 70% are at risk of an unplanned pregnancy. Today, that number has 62.4 million.
Reducing their access to contraception harkens back to the time in the early 20th century where access to this fundamental piece of women’s healthcare was denied because of religious leanings and archaic laws.
Millions of women are in danger-their future & economic livelihood. It's war on women & everyone needs to go to the mattresses #HandsOffMyBC https://t.co/MZkhJXZxGE
Fake Science And False Narratives
Central to the current discussion are several common arguments made by politicians and interest groups alike, all in the hopes of restricting access to birth control. These arguments generally revolve around the logically inconsistent idea that “women should just keep their legs closed if they aren’t ready for a baby” or “they can have birth control, I just don’t want my tax dollars paying for it.”
Firstly, a 2012 study found that expanding access to family planning through Medicaid would actually save taxpayers approximately $1.32 billion by preventing unplanned pregnancies — which create a far larger financial burden in the pockets of everyday Americans.
Additionally, a woman should not be forced to make the choice between having children or abstaining from sex — especially when men are never asked this same question. Access to contraception is a women’s health issue, as it is medically necessary for many situations, but moreover, it is a civil liberties issue. Bodily autonomy is a right that women have always had to fight tooth and nail for — as our government and society have systematically attempted to regulate it to fit their desires and political ambitions.
Those who argue that women such as myself just want “free birth control” fail to consider all the systematic and economic ways women have been disenfranchised to the point that they simply cannot afford contraception.
Women continuously earn smaller wages than men, have fewer workplace opportunities, and more restricted education access — and much of this is due to the lack of access to affordable family planning. Historical studies “linked state laws granting unmarried women early legal access to the pill (at age 17 or 18, rather than 21), to their attainment of postsecondary education and employment” which then increased their earning power over time.
Using contraception allowed women to decide if and when to have children, in a way that fits with their personal and career goals. Limiting access to birth control further traps women in a cycle of economic disenfranchisement in which they are unable to increase their financial status to the highest degree because of limited reproductive empowerment.
Access to birth control also protects the health of children by preventing unplanned pregnancies that are often tied to conflict, anxiety, and other mental health stressors. Gaining the ability to space out births is one of the main factors in decreasing the child mortality rate.
Additionally, an oft-ignored element of birth control — specifically the pill — is the multitude of medical conditions that are treated with it. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Endometriosis, two hormone imbalances that can be extremely painful are often treated by oral contraceptives.
Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (POI) is another such condition, in which the use of birth control pills to regulate hormone level and menstrual flow is necessary to keep bones healthy.
These are all medical conditions which one would assume would be covered by an already paid for insurance plan. However, because their treatment is the use of an oral contraceptive, as of Friday, October 6th, the Trump administration has now made it easier for employers to deny such coverage of medical conditions.
The ability to decide if and when to have children is not a decision for the government to make. Additionally, reproductive health care should be discussed between a woman and her doctor — not a woman and her employer and her senator and the President and then maybe her doctor. As such it is continuously astounding that the party of “small government” is not throwing arms every time reproductive rights are brought up, considering it seems such a clear and present threat to the very concepts of limited government and personal freedom.
Don't use birth control, don't have an abortion, but don't you dare ask for financial assistance once you have the kid you didn't want https://t.co/OA9ZlygzhI
This hypocrisy rears its head again when we consider the final argument for limiting birth control access. This was the same argument used by the Trump administration to defend their decision to roll back the Obama era contraceptive mandate — those that have a moral and religious objection to birth control should not have the views of others imposed on them.
See, they are the only ones allowed to impose their belief system on their fellow citizens.
By allowing employers to refuse to cover an often medically necessary, personal health decision which should already fall under the insurance an employee pays into, this administration has proved where its priorities lie — with the men like Anthony Comstock, who use religion as a cover-up in their attempts to regulate women’s bodies in a way that makes them feel more secure and in control.
In an ironic twist of fate, the same day the move towards this rollback was announced, the Justice Department issued a memo reinforcing its commitment to enhancing religious liberty. In the memo, the Department stated that the “free exercise of religion includes the right to act or not to act in accordance with one’s religious beliefs.”
Unless, of course, your beliefs include access to contraception.
War On Women
The announcement of the Trump Administration’s decision to move towards rolling back the ACA’s contraceptive mandate came on the eve of the anniversary of President Trump’s infamous “grab ’em by the pussy” Access Hollywood tapes.
The coincidence is a fitting reminder that the President has a long history of disrespect and abuse towards women. It is unsurprising that his administration would translate this history into policy, especially considering the GOP’s track record of attacking women and minority rights.
Certain members of our federal and state governments have promoted rhetoric that belongs in history books for its lack of scientific support or basis in reality. The limiting of contraceptive access is not in the best interest of women, children, fiscally disenfranchised communities, minority groups, or our entire economy.
It is, however, in the interest of politicians that need to cater to their Evangelical-Right base.
Removing this mandate doesn’t increase the freedom in this country — it limits it by once again playing politics with women’s bodies, and placing healthcare decisions in the pockets of politicians and interest groups. Women have been fighting for the right to control their own bodies for centuries.
We sure as hell aren’t stopping now.