Stay Awake!

Taken from the July/August 2017 issue of the Women's Health Activist Newsletter.

The election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence happened. We didn’t stop it; 42 percent of people didn’t vote and the majority of White women cast their ballots for Trump & Pence.

Now, we’re awake to the world we let happen. I was in the enormous crowd at the Women’s March, which made me feel like we had a fighting chance of stopping the likely attacks on women, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ folks, Muslims, and other religious minorities. I was also heartened to see people stand up for women’s rights all over the world. A lot of us are awake.

But despite knowing that millions strongly disagree with Trump and Pence’s positions, I’m still deeply worried about the future. Yes, we’re awake. But they have the power. And what do they want to do with it? Are we heading to Gilead, the dystopian society in Margaret Atwood’s classic novel, The Handmaid’s Tale?

It's no surprise that Trump lacks a coherent position on women’s issues. Despite expressing pro-choice opinions before his campaign, Trump wooed anti-choice voters and seems poised to keep his promises to them. He’s already appointed a Supreme Court Justice who delighted anti-abortionists, and celebrated a Congressional vote to de-fund Planned Parenthood. He’s promised to make the Hyde Amendment permanent law, and to sign a law banning abortion after 20 weeks. Who knows what else the President will do to restrict women’s rights? Possibly even he doesn’t know what he’ll do next.

But his Vice President, Mike Pence, definitely knows how he wants to use his new power: to enshrine his extreme conservative Christian religious beliefs into law. We’ve seen Pence in action in Indiana. Pence believes that gay couples signal “social collapse” and, as Governor, signed a so-called “religious freedom law” giving businesses the right to discriminate against LGTBQ individuals. Although the law was later amended, discrimination is still legal in Indiana. Pence believes life begins at conception and, as Governor, raided the welfare budget to fund “crisis pregnancy centers,” and signed a law requiring burial or cremation for aborted fetuses. As Governor, Pence slashed Planned Parenthood funding, including funds for HIV screening, leading to the worst HIV outbreak in Indiana’s history.

And today? Pence cast the Senate’s tie-breaking vote on legislation allowing states to drop Planned Parenthood from family planning programs. Pence seems to be making most of the decisions regarding the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and it appears that he intends to enact anti-woman, anti-abortion, anti-family planning, anti-sex ed policies as soon as possible. I say that based on key HHS appointments. For example the former president of an anti-abortion group will head public affairs (Charmaine Yoest), and someone who doesn’t believe the Federal government should have a role in family planning will oversee that very program (Theresa Manning). What kind of policies are Pence’s people going to put into place? We don’t know for sure, but we know they will be very bad for women.

In The Handmaid’s Tale, a religious sect successfully grabs power when fertility rates plummet. Male Commanders use Biblical verses to justify executing abortion doctors, forbidding contraception, and making fertile women state property for the purpose of forced pregnancy. In a vivid depiction of White supremacy’s intersection with male domination, women of all ethnicities are forced to be Handmaids, serving the all-White Commanders. That feels painfully close to the current experience of cross-border surrogacy where (mostly) poor women of color are paid to carry babies for (mostly) White upper-income couples.

Gilead is a long way off from where we are now, but from the Trump-Pence White House, you can see the beginning of the path being laid. We can’t let that happen. Stay connected to the NWHN so that, together, we can resist, no matter what comes next.

Cindy Pearson has served as the NWHN’s Executive Director for 25 years. One of the most respected women’s health advocates in the country, she regularly testifies before Congress, the NIH, and the FDA. Cindy is often featured as a consumer expert on women’s health issues in news publications and for conferences and currently serves as President of the Board of Directors for Women’s Health Specialists.

Read more from Cindy Pearson.