How Those Fighting for Bodily Autonomy Can Prepare for the Next Four Years and Beyond

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Commentary Human Rights

How Those Fighting for Bodily Autonomy Can Prepare for the Next Four Years and Beyond

Erin Matson

The threat to contraception access is real, and it makes sense for people to fill prescriptions before the transfer of power takes place. It's also why people wanting an intrauterine device (IUD) should consider getting one before inauguration, while the Affordable Care Act still stands and IUDs are still covered without co-pay.

Electing Donald Trump and Mike Pence to the White House is a singularly devastating moment for reproductive rights, health, and justice. As those defending bodily autonomy prepare for the next four years, we must equip ourselves with knowledge and remember that this fight needs to be about protecting our fellow human beings in the face of state-led repression and violence.

Abortion: the Landscape Ahead

The next four years and beyond are going to be brutal for abortion rights. Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat in the U.S. Supreme Court has remained unfilled since February 2016 due to the insistence of Republicans in the Senate that a new president fill that seat. Trump said he would appoint justices who oppose abortion, and conservative groups approved a list of 21 potential nominees during the course of the campaign; other similarly conservative names have since emerged.

After Trump replaces Scalia, advocates will sit through four uneasy years with two aging justices who support abortion rights—Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 83, and Justice Stephen Breyer, 80—and one who supports many restrictions but would not overturn Roe v. Wade —Justice Anthony Kennedy, 80. In the best-case scenario, nobody leaves the Court and Kennedy stays as the swing vote. In the worst-case scenario, five, six, or seven of nine Court justices will oppose Roe v. Wade, granting them the power to overturn it.

For this reason, we can expect to see the state-level legislative battles of the Obama years continue and accelerate. As of July 2016, state legislatures had enacted 334 abortion restrictions since 2010. Emboldened by the expectation of a Supreme Court willing to accept direct challenges to previous decisions that upheld abortion rights, we can expect to see states enacting more blatantly unconstitutional laws: 20-week abortion bans, bans on specific procedures, and demeaning measures that force women and pregnant people to delay procedures, including but not limited to requirements of invasive and unnecessary medical treatment.

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We can also expect to see the so-called abolitionists get louder and garner more support within the anti-choice ranks because they expect a Supreme Court willing to overturn Roe. This is the strategy of banning all abortions outright, classifying abortion as murder under the law, and punishing people who perform abortions—which, it must be noted, will increasingly be used against people who induce their own abortions at home because of preference or practical inability to access abortion.

Imprisoning people is the logical consequence of the anti-choice plan to make abortion illegal, including all of the steps along the way, such as banning procedures, closing clinics, and targeting poor people and people of color.

On that note, it must be said that punishing women who have abortions is not an innovation of Donald Trump—it has already been happening. In one chilling example, during his time as governor of Indiana, Mike Pence presided over the imprisonment of Purvi Patel, who was arrested after state attorneys accused her of ending her pregnancy outside a medical setting.

Still, self-induced abortion could become more attractive as abortion is made harder to access in a traditional medical setting. From the abortion funds helping to raise money for people who need abortion care today, to the Jane Collective that helped to provide abortions before Roe, to the Women on Waves boat bringing abortion pills to the waters outside countries where abortion is illegal, to Women on Web and other legitimate online services doing the same, there is a long history of women helping each other to obtain the abortion care they need even when the law stands in the way. I know this drives you wild, Donald and Mike, but all the handcuffs in the United States won’t stop smart women from solving their problems.

And as state efforts can be expected to accelerate and get worse, a more marked shift can be expected at the federal level, where Trump’s party controls the House and the Senate as well. For years, the anti-choice lobby has held a federal 20-week abortion ban as a top priority because it directly challenges the Roe trimester framework. So that’s coming again, along with measures that copycat restrictions adopted at the state-level.

What may be more notable is what will occur with declining frequency—intra-party arguments over exceptions to abortion restrictions. Who needs to agonize over how to define rape so that lying, slutty women won’t take advantage of it when you have two majorities, no presidential veto, and the prospect of a Supreme Court willing to ban all abortion?

Furthermore, as a member of Congress, Mike Pence helped to invent the crusade to defund Planned Parenthood. Congress has voted to defund the reproductive health-care organization eight times already. Obama won’t be around to veto the misogyny much longer.

But let’s be clear: The Republican majority in the Senate is not filibuster-proof. While there is no such filibuster power in the House, earlier this session House Democrats staged a sit-in over House Speaker Paul Ryan’s refusal to consider gun violence prevention measures. Democrats do not have to choose silence in the face of all this.

Stock Up on Your Birth Control Now

On the birth control front, change is coming. Trump has pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and he has a House and Senate eager to do so. This presents a crisis of 22 million people losing their health insurance, in addition to the end of contraceptive coverage without additional co-pay. For that matter, having a Trump supporter lead the Department of Health and Human Services presents numerous regulatory opportunities to impede or revoke access to contraception. With anti-choice ideologues at the wheel, it’s also not difficult to imagine a Trump administration politicizing the work of the Food and Drug Administration—that’s happened before.

The threat to contraception access is real, and it makes sense for people to fill prescriptions before the transfer of power takes place. It’s also why people wanting an intrauterine device (IUD) should consider getting one before inauguration, while they are still covered without co-pay—after contraceptive coverage is eliminated, out-of-pocket costs may rise to several hundred dollars, regardless of insurance type. Some are suggesting people get an IUD now because it could last the entirety of Trump’s presidency, thus eliminating the ongoing need for contraception. These suggestions should be weighed carefully against what is best for the individual, particularly since there is a long, patronizing history and present-day issue of long-acting reversible contraceptives being foisted upon poor women and women of color.

In any case, it’s not a bad idea to visit your doctor to stock up on contraception and emergency contraception now—and get a currently covered preventive care visit—before things get worse.

Resist the Entire Repression Agenda

It’s going to get worse before it gets worse. In this environment, our choice is acceptance or resistance. Advocates should be prepared to shift our thinking to adjust to this new reality. We must be ready to engage in non-violent direct action, to speak directly to power and alter the dynamics of power. We do not have the votes for the next two years minimum, but we have our bodies—and we can sit down wherever we want. It is important to note however, that not all actions are safe for all people, and you can still be an integral part of the resistance.

We must be ready to resist Trump’s repression agenda against Black people, immigrants, Jews, Latinxs, Muslims, people with disabilities, queer and trans people, women, and others. We can do this by respecting what targeted people say they need when Trump goes after them, and standing with them publicly and taking actions privately to support them. We can do this by saying what we need when we are those people. We can do this if we are white women by having the conversations we are morally obligated to have with other white women—a majority of whom voted for Trump. We can do this with direct action, which has already started with street protests led by tens of thousands of people the day after the election. We can also do this by centering race in our discussions of reproductive health-care access. These issues are deeply interconnected.

It is no accident that a future president endorsed by a Ku Klux Klan publication has wrapped himself in the mantle of the anti-choice movement. Like racism, sexism, homophobia, and the other forms of oppression with which it intersects, anti-choice values are used to control people and override their dignity. Controlling bodily autonomy, as a whole, disproportionately affects marginalized groups and is rooted in similar strategies.

We the people have a moral obligation to resist.