Since the Supreme Court rulings of Roe v. Wade in 1973 and Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, state and territory legislatures have become a laboratory for legislation that would effectively overturn these key rulings that gave people the right to access vital reproductive healthcare.
One can look no further than our own homes. In Texas during the 86th Legislative Session in 2019, State Representative Tony Tinderholt presented a failed bill that would have criminalized abortion and applied the death penalty to both people receiving and performing the procedure. A Republican state representative that halted the vote of this bill received death threats. In Puerto Rico, Senator Nayda Venegas crafted a bill that would have effectively made people under the age of 21 minors when it came to seeking reproductive healthcare. The University of Puerto Rico Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology argued that this bill that claimed “that a young, 21 year old woman is incapable of making an informed decision or that thousands of women in Puerto Rico are subjected to abortions by practitioners or nurses without any formal gynecological/obstetric training” was erroneous.
The passing of these bills in the first place is indicative of an unfortunate trend in politics to ignore history in regards to women’s rights and reproductive justice, especially for minority women in this country. What many don’t know is the first large-scale human trial of the birth control pill was carried out in Puerto Rico in the 1950s. Activists against the trials argued that they largely contributed to the systematic inferiorization of women through colonial, racial and gendered structures. In 1977 in Texas, Rosie Jimenez died after not being able to obtain a legal abortion through Medicaid. She was close to becoming a special education teacher and already had a 5 year old daughter. An argument against women making their own informed decisions in regards to their own health contributes to a culture of infantilization of women and the degradation of women’s rights in America. Women today still face adversity in regards to healthcare and reproductive justice, especially when looking at the heightened maternal mortality rates of Black women in this country.
To say that the current administration has only made it more difficult for women to receive proper healthcare in America is an understatement. Within his first 100 days in office, President Donald Trump’s administration gutted funding for the United Nations Population Fund ( UNFPA), which provides family planning and reproductive services to more than 150 countries globally. Human rights activists quickly denounced the decision, stating that “eliminating U.S. funds threatens the health and rights of millions of girls and women around the world, particularly those in crisis situations.” Claiming a pro-life stance, the current administration has also vehemently spoken out against Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that the majority of their funding goes towards providing services outside of abortion.
The incompetence and ignorance doesn’t stop there. The White House has asked different governmental agencies to change its verbiage and information relating to women’s health. The President asked the CDC to omit forbidden words such as fetus, evidence-based, transgender, and diversity from the agency’s website. The State Department also stripped its annual human rights report from featuring any mentions of reproductive or sexual rights. What’s more, other governmental agencies and websites followed in suit by removing similar mentions on their own page, like the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) removing mentions of contraception, abortion, and sex education from its documents.
This behavior is directly contrasted by Vice President Joe Biden, the President’s Democratic challenger. The Vice President worked under the Obama administration expanding healthcare to millions of Americans, including women who needed better and more affordable access to contraceptives. Besides expanding healthcare even more, Vice President Biden has pledged to lowering prescription costs, working to codify Roe v. Wade, supporting the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, reducing the high maternal mortality rate (which disproportionately affects women of color) and restoring federal funding for Planned Parenthood, both through Medicaid and Title X.
Despite the passing of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women still have difficulty receiving equal pay for equal work, even in women-dominated professions such as education and nursing. Combined with the fact that women hold two-thirds of all student debt in America, women face greater challenges building wealth than their male counterparts in their professions. Biden plans to cut income-based payments for student loans in half, to 5% of discretionary income. He would also freeze interest on student loans for individuals making less than $25,000 per year and make sure public servants actually benefit from public service loan forgiveness (which would greatly benefit women working in education).
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is currently refusing to allow a vote on the House-passed Violence Against Women Act of 2019, which would renew and bolster legislation that Biden spearheaded in 1994. As a result, key programs funded to combat gender-based violence, especially for immigrant and Native American communities, have not received crucial funding. Houston Police Chief Art Avecedo lambasted Republican senators holding up the reauthorization of VAWA after an officer was shot after responding to a domestic violence incident, stating:
“I don’t want to hear about how much they support law enforcement. I don’t want to hear about how much they care about lives and the sanctity of lives yet, we all know in law enforcement that one of the biggest reasons that the Senate and Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and others are not getting into a room and having a conference committee with the House and getting the Violence Against Women’s Act [passed] is because the NRA doesn’t like the fact that we want to take firearms out of the hands of boyfriends that abuse their girlfriends. And who killed our sergeant? A boyfriend abusing his girlfriend. So you’re either here for women and children and our daughters and our sisters and our aunts, or you’re here for the [National Rifle Association].”
Not only would Biden ensure that VAWA is reinstated, he would enact universal background checks and push for prohibiting all individuals convicted of assault, battery, or stalking from purchasing or possessing firearms. Additionally, with the rise of online extremist groups such as incels that advocate for committing mass acts of violence against women, Biden would create a task force on online harassment and abuse to focus on the connection between mass shootings, online harassment, extremism, and violence against women.
The case for women voting out Trump is so much more than the retweetable soundbites of his sexist comments. Real damage has been done for every American woman’s healthcare, safety, and livelihood. Especially with several members of the Supreme Court reaching retirement age, it is imperative that we do not allow Trump to make another lifetime Supreme Court appointment. Another Trump Supreme Court appointment could roll back women’s rights to a pre- Roe v. Wade state where women would struggle to even make basic healthcare decisions for themselves. The 2020 Presidential Election is one of the most important elections that women will ever vote in for that reason alone. A vote for Joe Biden is a vote for maintaining our current rights as women and furthering gender equity in the United States.