A lot of women I talk to are concerned about Donald Trump and his connections to the Russians, but express concern that Vice President Pence would be an even worse president for them because he seems to come straight out of the cast for The Handmaid’s Tale. In no way do I want to diminish or dismiss the validity of their point of view, but I want to highlight that Trump seems to be nearly as obsessed as Pence with the fecundity of the fairer sex.
As proof, let’s look at what Obamacare has done for American women who want to control their reproduction:
The architects of the Affordable Care Act intended to broadly expand access to contraception by making it a regular benefit of health insurance, and the Obama administration’s goal was to guarantee birth control for as many women as possible. More than 55 million women have birth control coverage without out-of-pocket costs, according to a study commissioned by the Obama administration and cited in the draft rule.
By spring 2014, two-thirds of women using birth control pills and nearly 75 percent of women using the contraceptive ring were no longer paying out-of-pocket costs. In 2013 alone, the mandate had saved women $1.4 billion on birth control pills, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
Now, you can look at that as an unearned entitlement if you want, but there’s no question that more women will avoid unwanted pregnancies if the cost of contraception isn’t a consideration for them. This is true whether the sex they have is consensual or not. The Trump administration feels, however, that there is a more important value and outcome to protect. There are people in this country who don’t think women should be able to have sex without the accompanying risk of pregnancy. There are people who simply want the right kind of Americans to have more children so that the wrong kind of Americans won’t outbreed them. They oppose women using contraception and they don’t want to subsidize it no matter how indirectly. Sometimes, these people even explain themselves using religious texts.
So, here’s what Trump is going to do:
The Trump administration has drafted a sweeping revision of the government’s contraception coverage mandate that could deny birth control benefits to hundreds of thousands of women who now receive them at no cost under the Affordable Care Act.
The new rule, which could go into effect as soon as it is published in the Federal Register, greatly expands the number of employers and insurers that could qualify for exemptions from the mandate by claiming a moral or religious objection, including for-profit, publicly traded corporations. A 34,000-word explanation of the intended policy change is blunt about its likely impact on women: “These interim final rules will result in some enrollees in plans of exempt entities not receiving coverage or payments for contraceptive services.”
Now, the Trump administration isn’t strong on science and they ignore it when it suits them. But, in this case, they also make a clear statement of preference two between competing objectives. If you only choose between fewer unwanted pregnancies for all women and less unwed teenage sex, which would you choose?
The Obama administration and the National Academy of Sciences cited studies showing that as the use of contraceptives has gone up, the rate of unintended pregnancies has come down. But the Trump administration says “these studies are insufficient to demonstrate a causal link.”
Instead, the rule emphasized another issue: “as contraception became available and its use increased, teen sexual activity outside of marriage likewise increased.”
To be clear, I’m not saying that these two objectives are necessarily mutually exclusive. But, in this context, there’s a tradeoff. The Trump administration chooses to accept that more women will be become pregnant who did not intend or want to become pregnant in exchange for some women abstaining from sex that they would otherwise have.
They justify this on the grounds of liberty. Of course, it’s not the women’s liberty since their choices are curtailed here. It’s only the so-called moral objectors’ liberty that is considered. And the only choice of theirs that is being protected is the choice to deny someone else something that they want.
These are definitely the values of The Handmaid’s Tale taking precedence over the interests of women. It’s also a refusal to recognize or accept that contraception is often prescribed for medical reasons, and not even just to avoid pregnancies that could endanger the life of the mother.
Finally, it should be obvious that there’s a conflict here among people who not only object to contraception but also to abortion. They are insisting on a rule change that will result in more women wanting to get an abortion. Their solution for that is to make abortions illegal, and Trump is expected to make that happen the second that the next liberal Supreme Court Justice dies or resigns.
Maybe Mike Pence would be considerably worse than this for women, but I don’t think anyone should hope that Trump gets away with his crimes just to avoid Pence. I would be interested to hear, though, how Pence might take things even further. I don’t doubt that he’d try to find ways to be even more hostile to women but I guess I don’t have enough imagination to see how he could be that much worse.