Donald Trump’s victory in the recent presidential election has been attributed to the many angry, underemployed whites and other voters who long for the days when America was, supposedly, greater than it is now. But he also owes his win to another, much smaller group—a fierce, single-issue cult that has been trying for decades, with increasing success, to limit women’s access to contraception and abortion.
Polls have consistently shown that a majority of Americans are pro-choice, but Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress now have the power to enable anti-choice states to completely cut off women’s access to abortion, and to apply the power of the federal government to restrict women’s access to contraceptives and low-cost care by shutting down Planned Parenthood clinics, and stacking lower courts and the Supreme Court with judges whose rulings will affect American women of childbearing age for a generation to come.
Based on his promises and the records of his appointees, Trump will enter the White House one day before the 44th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling as possibly the most anti-choice president in 50 years. Meanwhile, the surge of Google searches for DIY abortions indicate that American women in many states are already back in the age of the coat-hanger. Several state legislatures are poised to ban abortion, even in the case of rape and incest, and various bills targeting doctors and researchers are moving through Congress.
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, spoke with Newsweek about what’s at stake with this new administration, and what American women can do to prepare.
Q: What is the most significant change the Trump administration might be able to effect on women’s reproductive rights?
A: Despite the fact that Donald Trump clearly has no mandate to roll back reproductive freedoms, his early comments and cabinet picks make clear he has every intention of paying his debt to the anti-choice minority that backed him. Part of why the Trump Administration represents such a clear and present danger to women, our rights and our freedoms is because he begins his tenure as president on the most fragile foundation of women’s rights since Roe v. Wade passed more than 40 years ago. Quietly, over the last two decades, anti-choice extremists have taken over state houses and driven pro-choice moderates out of their party, despite the fact that a majority of rank-and-file Republicans support legal access to abortion. They’ve succeeded in making entire swaths of this country hostile territory for women needing reproductive healthcare and creating smaller and smaller islands where women are still afforded our full constitutional rights.
So, Donald Trump’s move to stack the administration with anti-choice zealots in key positions stands to eradicate the final protection that women have had from the federal government. He and his anti-choice partners in Congress have already indicated they’d like to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the contraceptive coverage guarantee within it, and we take Donald Trump at his word when he says he will appoint an anti-choice Supreme Court justice.
But it’s a new day for our side too. The pro-choice majority in this country has woken up to exactly what’s at stake. The vast majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal and women’s health care should be protected. There’s power in this majority.
Q: What is your plan for fighting back against a Trump anti-choice agenda? Does the Million Woman March planned for the day after his inauguration fit into that?
A: Donald Trump might be in the White House, but Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by [almost three] million votes. This reinforces what we’ve known all along: the majority of Americans stand on the side of reproductive freedom.
We strategically targeted NARAL investments in states where reproductive freedom was a key issue on the ballot, and we won. That’s clear in Nevada and New Hampshire—two states where anti-choice candidates lost races in which abortion rights and reproductive freedom were central. Hillary Clinton also won in these two states, and in Nevada, we flipped both the state house and state senate from anti-choice to pro-choice. We need to examine our successes and failures, and apply those lessons more broadly.
The grassroots activism fueling the Women’s March on Washington is extraordinary. While the march is still in the planning stages, the message it sends to anti-choice and anti-women politicians is powerful. A resistance movement led by women will be key to the future of this country.
We have seen a tremendous uptick in our membership and in donations to NARAL since the election. We believe people are ready to stand up and fight back.
Q: What can and should women of childbearing age do right now?
A: We’ve heard reports of women in huge numbers acting fast to get long-acting contraception, like IUDs, which by law must be covered by insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Every woman needs to do what’s best for her and her family. But the most important thing women can do is sign up to organize and mobilize people in support of our freedoms and hold elected officials accountable.
Q: How will the appointment of Tom Price to run Health and Human Services affect contraception availability and abortion services?
A: We expect to see him try to ban abortion and contraception—if not explicitly, then through policies that severely restrict this health care. Not only has Tom Price tried to outlaw abortion nationwide, including in cases of rape, incest and health of the woman, he has worked to put an outright ban on the most common forms of contraception. As chair of the Budget Committee, he was on the front lines of efforts to dismantle the lifesaving Affordable Care Act, as well as the dangerous attempts to defund Planned Parenthood. For the seven in 10 Americans who support legal access to abortion, this is an incredibly alarming pick.
Q: How many states, like Indiana, have bills in the hopper to require funerals for fetuses?
A: In 2016, anti-choice state legislators introduced bills requiring a woman to bury or cremate her fetus in three other states (Alabama, Idaho, and Nebraska). Two other states (Texas and Louisiana) approved regulations similar to the one approved in Indiana. These laws have no grounding in medical or health concern. They exist only to use the force of the government to cause pain and shame to women for making our own decisions about our reproduction.
Q: Are you aware of other cases like Ann Yocca’s in Tennessee, who is being charged for attempting a coat-hanger abortion?
A: When anti-choice lawmakers make abortion more difficult to get, they don’t drive the number of abortions down. They are just driving the number of consequences up for those trying to access abortion care.
Q: Are you concerned that there will be more women doing DIY abortions?
A: Searches on the internet for how to self-administer an abortion are high in areas where abortion access is severely restricted. And while home abortions can be incredibly safe if performed under the advisement of a competent health care provider, many women may attempt abortion in ways that aren’t safe. That’s one of the key reasons why it’s so important to ensure abortion remains legal, so women aren’t pushed into the back alleys once again. When abortion care is restricted, the number of abortions does not go down, and the number of deaths and injuries goes up.
Q: Can you comment on Vice President (Mike) Pence’s history with women’s reproductive rights in Indiana?
A: Governor Pence has spent his entire career working to make abortion illegal, imprison doctors who provide abortion services for women, and ban some of the most common forms of contraception. He has said that he wants to see Roe v. Wade thrown to the ash heap of history. Under his leadership, the state of Indiana tried to sentence a woman to 20 years in prison for an abortion.
Mike Pence’s fervor to close Planned Parenthood clinics and rob Indiana citizens of basic health services has resulted in a health crisis: Indiana has seen an uptick in HIV infection and a decrease in prenatal services available for rural and impoverished pregnant women. He also has a record of putting his extreme, anti-choice ideology ahead of the best interest of everyone in our nation: He led the charge to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood funding while in Congress.
Q: Can women expect lower court judges to protect their rights?
A: Thanks to the anti-choice GOP’s insistence on obstructing in Washington D.C., right now there are nearly 100 federal judicial vacancies, with even more to come. Trump can stack the courts and change the face of the judicial branch for a generation to come. While the Supreme Court garners the most public attention, the fate of women’s access to abortion is much more commonly decided at the lower-court level.
Q: Some anti-abortion groups sent out joyful emails immediately after the Trump election, predicting that abortion will be illegal across the country. Is this possible?
A: Even if anti-choice lawmakers don’t succeed in making abortion illegal on a nationwide scale, states can enact legislation that restricts abortion so severely that it becomes inaccessible. That’s essentially already the case in some states, and there are already laws on the books in multiple states that would make abortion illegal—and women who choose it would be criminals—if Roe v. Wade is overturned. But let’s be clear: what these groups are celebrating is a restriction on a woman’s autonomy, her dignity and her ability to be a full partner in society. Without access to reproductive health care, women are held back from living the lives we dream of and realizing our destinies.
Q: What states are at the tipping point in terms of losing abortion services? Which states are at a tipping point in terms of contraceptive availability?
A: Abortion clinics have been closing at an alarming rate, leaving some states (Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming) with only one clinic. Even in states with more than one reproductive health care clinic, many barriers still exist. A woman may not have the funds necessary to travel several hours to the nearest clinic, she may not be able to get time off of work or childcare, or she may live in a state that forces her to wait up to three days between appointments and make two separate trips. If Roe is overturned, many American women will see abortion access effectively eliminated.
Q: How can people help those who live in states where women are forced to bear children?
A: Sign up. Organize. Mobilize. The non-violent resistance we need to stop these attacks can only happen if people get to work, speak out, or take action against the most severe restrictions on abortion access.
Q: Which bills in Congress are you most concerned about?
A: The range of anti-choice legislation being discussed—including repealing the contraception coverage afforded by the Affordable Care Act, medically unnecessary restrictions on clinics providing abortion care, and a nationwide 20-week abortion ban—is alarming for many different reasons.
When you restrict contraceptive access by making it more expensive and more difficult to get, women can’t plan their lives or their families the way they want to. When you enact legislation imposing medically unnecessary restrictions that cause clinics to shut down across the nation, you’re stripping women of their ability to take control of our futures or even care for the families we already have. When you ban abortion at 20 weeks, you tell women and families facing the most difficult situations that they aren’t to be trusted with their own medical decisions and put their lives in danger.
Q: Why does NARAL call H Res 933, the investigation into Planned Parenthood and fetal tissue a “witch hunt”? Have doctors been charged and investigated already, or are under investigation now and if so, where?
A: The House Select Investigative Panel has used taxpayer money to advance a partisan attack on students, researchers, and health-care providers across the nation. For example, earlier this year the committee issued subpoenas targeting people working in universities, labs and other research institutions. We and our members stand with the pro-choice Democrats serving on the panel as they fight against this partisan abuse of taxpayer funds and the public’s trust.