BY MARYROSE MAZZOLA
It’s now been over a month since Election Day. If you’re a progressive voter like me, you’ve probably cried (potentially on public transportation), read at least a dozen think pieces about how this happened, and rage donated your heart out. All of that is cathartic – and necessary, given the role that nonprofits and legal defense funds could play over the next four years. It’s now time to get serious about the public policy implications of a Trump presidency. Here, I’ve focused particularly on what the Administration means for issues that disproportionately affect women – and what you can do about it.
Reproductive Rights and Health:
Donald Trump has described himself as pro-choice in the past, before saying women who get abortions “should be punished” during a CNN town hall in March 2016. Soon after he released a statement clarifying that women are the victims and, instead, doctors should be punished if abortion were to become illegal. This reversal suggests that the President-elect doesn’t have a strong ideology around the issue and will instead rely on advisors and Cabinet members to push an agenda. His inner circle is decidedly anti-choice.
Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Representative Tom Price (R-GA6), has a 100 percent voting record from the National Right to Life Committee. Price supported the 2016 effort to defund Planned Parenthood. Vice President-elect Mike Pence signed many controversial abortion restriction bills into law as the Governor of Indiana and waged war against his state’s Planned Parenthood affiliate. With these two men in positions of power and a Republican majority in the House and Senate, we can expect more attempts to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, as well as bills to restrict abortion access.
This extreme opposition to reproductive rights has already inspired some states to increase restrictions to abortion. Earlier this month, the Ohio state legislature passed legislation that would ban abortion as soon as doctors can detect a fetal heartbeat, which was vetoed by Governor Kasich. Instead, Kasich signed a 20-week ban into law. The heartbeat bill would almost certainly be found unconstitutional since the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision affirmed that women have the right to abortion until fetal viability occurs at 23 or 24 weeks. Many women’s health advocates and practitioners hope the Court would also rule the 20-week ban unconstitutional based on the undue burden it causes women, as upheld in this year’s Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision. The composition of the Court may change drastically during this Administration, however. President-elect Trump has promised to replace Justice Scalia with an anti-choice justice, and it’s reasonable to assume that one of the older justices who have supported abortion rights in the past – Ginsburg (age 83), Kennedy (80) and Breyer (78) – could leave the Court at some point in the next four years.
Repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), one of the President-elect’s top talking points, would also increase the cost of birth control – or render it altogether unaffordable for women who use more expensive methods like IUDs. Even if the ACA were to stay, simply removing the mandate for healthcare providers to cover contraception would have the same effect. If combined with restrictions on abortion access, which also disproportionately affect young women, poor women, and women of color, unwanted pregnancies among some of our more vulnerable populations would increase.
Gender-based violence survivors and advocates have their reasons to fear a Trump presidency. More than a dozen women have accused the President-elect of sexual assault, and he famously bragged about actions that constitute the legal definition of sexual assault on the leaked Access Hollywood tape. Both Chief Strategist and Senior Counsel Steven Bannon and Labor Secretary pick Andrew Puzder have been accused of domestic abuse in the past. Cabinet picks Senator Jeff Sessions, Price and Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS4) all voted against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2012. The law provides funding for community violence prevention programs, legal aid for domestic violence survivors, and rape crisis centers. It will be up for reauthorization in 2017.
In 2016, the Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights passed both houses of Congress unanimously, a noteworthy accomplishment in the hyper-partisan 114th Congress. President Obama signed the bill into law on October 7. The law contains several provisions aiming to make the criminal justice system better serve survivors, including the right to have a sexual assault evidence collection kit preserved without charge for the entire relevant statute of limitation and the right to be notified in writing before a kit is destroyed. The laws calls for the Attorney General to create a working group, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, around best practices for helping sexual assault survivors. Advocates can be reasonably concerned that Attorney General Sessions, who remarked that he doesn’t consider grabbing genitalia to be sexual assault when he was asked about Trump’s remarks on the Access Hollywood tape, may not be the best fit to select members for and govern this committee.
The law’s provisions only apply to federal sexual assault cases, however, while most sexual assault cases are prosecuted on the state level. This may offer some hope. The organization behind the bill passed a version of the law in Massachusetts earlier this year and is currently pursuing similar patchwork legislation in New York and Oregon.
Economic Opportunity and Pay Equity:
Women are significantly more likely to live in poverty than men, and poverty rates are much higher for women of color than for white women. This is partially due to the fact that almost two-thirds of minimum wage earners are women, many of them in low paying service jobs. Pence opposed raising the minimum wage while in Congress and signed a bill banning local minimum wage increases while Governor of Indiana.
The gender wage gap, which most national estimates put in the range of 20 cents (i.e. women make 80 cents to a man’s dollar), also contributes to women’s disproportional poverty. Women of color experience a much larger gap than white women, with Hispanic women earning just 54 cents to a white man’s dollar. The first bill that President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which extended the statute of limitations for women to sue for pay discrimination. Sessions and Price both opposed the bill. Sessions also opposed the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would punish employers for retaliating against employees who share wage information and allow employees to sue for damages of wage discrimination. It has been introduced in every Congress for over 20 years but has never passed. With a Republican-controlled House and Senate, there is not much hope for it over the next two years, either.
Last January, on the seventh anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Act becoming law, the White House announced that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was proposing regulatory changes aimed at examining and closing the pay gap. The proposal would require companies with 100 or more employees to report wage data annually, which would provide a more accurate estimate of the wage gap nationally and regionally. Many pay equity and legal experts now doubt that this regulatory change will go through under the Trump Administration. Trump will also be selecting a new Chair of the EEOC in 2017, which will most likely change the EEOC’s priorities.
What You Can Do:
Advocate for City- and State-Level Changes: “When they go low, we go local” has become my favorite post-election saying. Much progress has been made on the local and state levels regarding issues that disproportionately affect women. The City of Boston created a paid parental leave ordinance in 2015, and many state offices followed suit. My organization, the Boston Women’s Workforce Council, partners the City of Boston with employers in the Greater Boston area who commit to sharing wage data and taking concrete, research-tested steps to close the gap at their own organizations. We’ve spoken to over a dozen cities across the country that have either implemented something similar or hope to in the near future.
Contact Your Legislators: Call your Senator or Representative at their district office. Calls are generally more effective than letters or emails since they are more likely to be tracked. Lobbying with and for organizations doing the groundwork on these issues at the state level is also key. The Massachusetts Sexual Health Lobby Day, which is a coalition effort among organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL, is January 31. You can register for the event here.
Continue to Donate: Funding organizations that protect and support women, immigrants, LGBTQ folks, and others targeted by the incoming Administration matters. There has been a huge spike in donations post-election, but those organizations will need a steady stream of funding for the next four years.
Organize!: It’s important for progressive causes and women’s groups to work together to push back against these dangerous policies and rhetoric. The Boston Women’s March will take place on January 21. You can find more information here.
MaryRose Mazzola graduated from the Harvard Kennedy School with a master’s degree in public policy in 2015. She currently serves as the Executive Director of the Boston Women’s Workforce Council, a public-private partnership between the City of Boston and nearly 200 employers in the Greater Boston area dedicated to closing the gender wage gap. She has previously worked in state and local politics, as well as at the Massachusetts State House.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.