The newest ACA repeal attempt is yet another attack on women’s rights. This bill would eliminate access to contraceptives and cut abortion funding. In 2015, 6.2 million American women received contraception through public funding. Trump and the Graham-Cassidy bill will cut this funding leaving millions without proper access to contraceptives and abortion care.
The medical community and advocates for women’s rights emphasized the important role that contraception played in the broader management of every woman’s health over her lifetime, and the Supreme Court enshrined this belief in the law by ruling contraception legal for both married couples and single people.
Yet the growing power of the religious right illustrated the precarious nature of these gains. Beginning in the late 1970s, powerful evangelical voting blocs mobilized the Republican Party to begin targeting these reforms as key platform issues. Over the past few decades, they have collaborated to chip steadily away at women’s health-care rights on the state and federal level, both through increasingly restrictive abortion laws and campaigns to defund Planned Parenthood, as well as their open scorn for the idea of free birth control.
These efforts have coalesced in the Trump administration, and the nearly century-old pleas from women to Dennett and Sanger have new resonance. Women’s health has become a partisan issue rather than a policy issue, politicized by Republicans who question the place of contraception in federal programming.
Key figures appointed by President Trump to oversee Americans’ public health needs, including Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs Teresa Manning, make it clear that they do not support federal funding for contraception and argue that women do not need their employers or the federal government to ensure broad access to it.
Republican alternatives, however, simply don’t work. Leaving the question of family-planning funding up to the states or new federally funded “community health centers” or instituting federally mandated abstinence-only sex education policies won’t solve the problem. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 6.2 million American women obtained contraception through public funding in 2015, including Title X and Medicaid. This effort prevented 1.9 million unintended pregnancies and 628,600 abortions. Cutting this aid will return us to a time that both Dennett and Sanger worked so hard to end.
In 2017, full contraceptive access should be an uncontested standard in federal policies on women’s health. But as the machinations of Trump and the Republicans show, attitudes about our collective responsibility for providing low-cost and readily available birth control for all citizens of reproductive age have changed little since the early 20th century.