Taken from the May/June 2017 issue of The Women's Health Activist Newsletter.
The reasons that Donald Trump was able to win the U.S. presidential election may take many years to fully understand. For now, though, it is clear that Trump simultaneously took advantage of and fomented a new wave of populism, targeting the government as the cause of economic misery, and positioning himself as uniquely capable to improve the lives of the eroding middle class. He echoed Republican misrepresentations about the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) effect on the public and the future of Medicare, and promised its immediate repeal. He fanned the flames of racism and the “alt-right” movement by whipping up fear of Muslims, refugees, and people of color (particularly African-Americans). He played into sexism and discontent over women’s gains in the workplace and society to tar the first female major party candidate. He gained support from anti-abortion voters by pledging to defund Planned Parenthood, make the Hyde Amendment permanent law, ban late-term abortion, and nominate “pro-life” justices, specifically to the U.S. Supreme Court.
When Republicans took control of both the House and Senate this year, it appeared that the Trump-Pence administration would have nearly unobstructed power to implement its campaign promises. Then the resistance to Trump’s positions emerged and blossomed. The Women’s March on Washington — organized in just 11 weeks to voice opposition to Trump’s sexism — resulted in the largest single day of protests in U.S. history. People actively took stands against racism and demonstrated their support of travelers from majority-Muslim nations. More than 6,000 local groups formed to take progressive action and resist Trump’s agenda. Supporters of the ACA packed town hall meetings and flooded Congressional offices with phone calls demanding that elected representatives maintain access to health care. Usually safe Republican districts are suddenly under contention in the Spring special elections.
The resistance to Trump and the GOP’s agenda gives me hope that progressives can hold back the worst challenges of this new era. We have already had some victories. For example, the Republicans had to withdraw their first attempt to repeal the ACA after public pressure caused several moderate Republicans to change their position. But, these victories are tempered by the fact that the Trump-Pence administration has shown that they and their Congressional allies will take full advantage of their power whenever possible — such as by changing Senate rules to confirm Justice Gorsuch with a simple majority rather than a supermajority. And, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has indicated that efforts to “repeal and replace” the ACA are back on the table.
Even if we can repeat the success seen so far, and maintain the resistance’s momentum, the implications for health reform, health justice, and reproductive health remain bleak for the foreseeable future. All of the Network’s colleagues and partner organizations are in emergency mode: stretched thin by putting in extra hours on defensive campaigns to prevent immediate attacks on key programs, while simultaneously planning for future battles. We are all in a position of trying to prevent harmful measures from being implemented, rather than implementing policies and funding programs that actually help people. These efforts are complicated by intra-party Congressional tensions, the fluid nature of responsibility for policies emanating from the White House, slow progress in filling key Executive Branch positions, and the Trump Administration’s dizzying shifts in priorities and policies.
What the first 100 days of the Trump Administration have made clear is that fighting to protect abortion care, access to health care, health equity, and racial justice is — and will continue to be — difficult. The new political landscape brings unprecedented threats to abortion, reproductive health services, health care access, health equity, and racial justice.
We want you to know that the Network is committed to this fight. We’ve said it before, but we want to reiterate our commitment to you, to women’s health, and to our progressive values, now that we have first-hand experience with the challenges unleashed in Trump’s first 100 days. What the successes and resistance efforts to-date clearly demonstrate is that we are stronger together. At the NWHN, we know this means not only continuing to work collaboratively through partnerships, but also to maintain our broad-based approach to health that recognizes the interconnected nature of progressive issues.
The NWHN has a long history of working this way to advance reproductive health, health reform, and health justice. We will continue to do so as we fight the Trump-Pence agenda, regardless of what the future brings. Thank you for being part of the resistance with us.
Cindy Pearson was the NWHN’s Executive Director from 1996 to 2021. One of the nation's leading advocates for women's health, Cindy often testified before Congress, NIH and the FDA and was frequently featured in the news as a consumer expert on women’s health issues. When she retired, Cindy received a Congressional Resolution in honor of her outstanding contributions to the health of women and girls.