After an election in which more than 100 women were elected to Congress, Nevada voters eliminated the state's "tampon tax," and according to some exit polls, two-thirds of those who voted in the midterms support Roe v. Wade, the American people have made one thing overwhelmingly clear: women deserve and are capable of being in positions of power, whether it's in Washington, DC or in their doctors' offices.
Yet two extreme anti-abortion measures passed in Alabama and West Virginia on Election day, both of which could criminalize certain forms of contraception and fertility treatment along with abortion care, if Roe v. Wade is ever struck down. And the day after the midterms, the Trump administration issued new rules allowing employers to deny contraceptive coverage, despite several pending lawsuits and two federal courts blocking them.
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This administration and the GOP are ignoring the overwhelming majority of Americans who want access to contraception, abortion, and other modern sexual health services and education. Reproductive freedom isn't controversial; the majority of voters support abortion and over 99% of women ages 15-44 who have had sexual intercourse have used at least one method of contraception, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
But here we are, in 2018, living in a country without mandatory paid family leave and the worst maternal mortality rate in the developed world, home to 15 million children living in poverty and paying mothers less than fathers and women without children. Yet the political party in power, touting "family values," is more focused on curtailing abortion rights, attacking access to birth control, and creating a cultural fissure where one simply does not exist.
According to the Pew Research Center, most Americans -- 72% of women and 62% of men -- believe employers should be required to provide birth control coverage in employee health insurance plans. Yet this administration has repeatedly attempted to repeal the birth control mandate initially set by President Barack Obama, first issuing a plan to "circumvent the mandate" a year ago.
Using pseudo-science and outright falsehoods to justify their continued attack on contraception coverage and access -- from claiming birth control doesn't really reduce unwanted pregnancies and leads to riskier sex, to inflating the so-called "harms" of birth control pills -- the Trump administration clearly aims to curtail reproductive freedom not because that's what the majority of Americans want, but because it appeases a religious base that helped elect President Donald Trump in the first place. Trump was previously pro-choice before running for president and becoming aware of the voting power of far-right evangelicals. "I'm very pro-choice," Trump said in 1999 during an appearance on "Meet The Press." "I am pro-choice in every respect."
Trump is now singing a different tune, and along with Vice President Mike Pence, has emboldened anti-choice politicians to introduce, and in some cases pass, an unprecedented amount of anti-abortion legislations -- most recently, the state constitutional amendments passed in West Virginia and Alabama. If Roe v. Wade falls as the result of Trump's appointed anti-choice judges, abortion will automatically become illegal in both states.
This political grandstanding has consequences, of course, and it will be young people, women, trans men and non-binary individuals, and particularly black people and other people of color who pay the price. Limited access to birth control will mean an increase in unwanted pregnancies and, in places where abortion access isn't severely restricted, an increase in the number of people who seek abortion services.
In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, teenagers who were given contraception were less likely to get pregnant or have abortions compared to those who did not. The teen birth rate dropped to an all-time low in 2017, and the rates of abortion also dropped to an historic low in the same year, all due to access to increased access to contraception and evidence-based, comprehensive sex education.
Experts say those who cannot terminate their unwanted pregnancies due to limited abortion access experience more anxiety, lower self-esteem, and less life satisfaction compared to women who obtain abortion services. Women who are denied abortions are more likely to live in poverty, and according to a 2018 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, women refused an abortion "were more likely than those who had an abortion to report not having enough money to cover basic living expenses."
According to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, children who are born to women who were denied abortions are less likely to reach developmental milestones, more likely to live in poverty, and experience significantly less maternal bonding than the children of women who had abortions and were able to start their families when they were ready and willing.
Denying access to contraception and abortion services is bad for the mental, physical, and financial health of women and their families, but this administration and the GOP are willing to watch American citizens endure those consequences if it means placating their base and maintaining political power.
But we know that Democrats, Republicans, rich, poor, religious, atheist -- everyone has abortions, and everyone knows and loves someone who has had an abortion. Continuing to attack reproductive freedom by blocking abortion access and limiting access to contraception isn't the will of the people, but a priority on the agenda of a small few in positions of power who want to stir widespread anger and deny Americans access to medical care to hold onto that power.
In a country already facing so many great divides, we don't need our politicians sowing further division about contraception. We need them to protect our inalienable right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Because for so many of us, birth control and abortion are contained in the word liberty.