“I just want to state some facts,” Deja Foxx, a 16-year-old activist, told Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) at a town hall meeting in April. “I’m a young woman, and you’re a middle-aged man. I’m a person of color, and you’re white. I come from a background of poverty, and I didn’t always have parents to guide me through life. You come from privilege, so I’m wondering, as a Planned Parenthood patient and someone who relies on Title X, who you are clearly not, why it’s your right to take away my right to choose Planned Parenthood.”
The confrontation, which went viral, occurred on the same day that President Trump signed a law allowing states to deny Title X family planning funds to health clinics that offer abortions. Flake supported the bill, along with 49 other Senate Republicans. With two Republican women breaking ranks, Vice President Pence cast the tiebreaking vote to force the bill through. As Foxx explained to Flake, the care she receives at Planned Parenthood is helping her take charge of her future and achieve the American dream. “I can’t sit idly by while women like me are countlessly and constantly being ignored on Capitol Hill,” she said in an interview after the exchange.
The Title X measure is just one of many unnerving examples of women having their interests ignored — or, worse, threatened — in Washington. While much of the media and political establishment are gripped by the scandals engulfing the administration, Trump and the Republican Party have been waging war on the health of women everywhere.
The latest attack came last Monday, when the Trump administration marked the beginning of National Women’s Health Week by announcing an unprecedented expansion of the “global gag rule,” which Republican presidents since Ronald Reagan have used to withhold U.S. funding from health organizations that provide abortions or even acknowledge the procedure as an option. The last time it was in effect, under George W. Bush, the policy restricted roughly $600 million in international family planning assistance. Trump is broadening it to include global health funding provided by the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Defense Department, totaling $8.8 billion. The expanded ban will cause an increase in unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions and maternal deaths. “Despite the Trump administration’s ludicrous rebranding of the policy,” says Suzanne Ehlers, president of the global reproductive health advocacy group PAI, “the Global Gag Rule is unmistakably deadlier than ever.”
The president’s top domestic priority — repealing the Affordable Care Act — would also be disastrous for women across the United States. The replacement bill passed by the House would take away coverage for millions of Medicaid recipients, the majority of whom are women. It would eliminate essential health benefits, such as maternity and newborn care, and strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood. And it would gut protections for preexisting conditions, meaning women could once again face discrimination as a result of “conditions” such as pregnancy and Caesarean sections. A Senate version of the bill is now being crafted by 13 Republicans — all men.
Meanwhile, the assault on women’s health is expanding in Republican-controlled states. In the first four months of 2017 alone, there were 31 abortion restrictions enacted at the state level, according to the Guttmacher Institute. In Iowa, Planned Parenthood announced last week that it will close four clinics serving nearly 15,000 patients as a result of a defunding measure slated to take effect in July. Under the new law, Iowa will forgo Medicaid family planning funds in favor of a state-run program that will exclude care providers that offer abortions. Since making a similar move in 2011, Texas has seen a steep drop in participation and a rise in Medicaid pregnancies, and is now asking the federal government to restore its funding — without requiring it to end the counterproductive ban on abortion providers.
Despite the grim developments, women are responding with an outpouring of political energy. Since the Women’s March in January, thousands of women have expressed interest in running for office. They are jamming the phone lines on Capitol Hill. And they are making a more powerful case than ever that reproductive rights are not merely a women’s health issue, but an essential component of economic health and security as well.
Trump may be escalating the war on women, but in doing so, he has awakened women and girls such as Deja Foxx. They will drive the anti-Trump resistance forward and, increasingly, shape the future of the progressive movement. As Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said in a speech last month, “This White House and this Congress have shown they are willing to throw women under the bus — and we are fighting them every step of the way. That’s why we are building a progressive movement where women’s health and women’s economic empowerment aren’t an afterthought — they are at the forefront.”