When it comes to federal abortion policy, some things are as regular as clockwork. If Congress has a Democratic majority, the city of Washington, D.C., will allow those who are on Medicaid to use their insurance to cover an abortion. If the GOP is in control, that goes away. If a Republican is in the White House, they will institute the Mexico City policy, a ban on any international organization receiving funds from the United States government if they so much as mention the word abortion. If a Democratic president is in the Oval Office, the global gag rule is lifted. And regardless of who controls Congress, year after year after year the Hyde Amendment—a ban on federal funds being used to pay for any abortions unless the pregnancy endangers a person’s life or was the result of sexual assault—is approved for just one more year. Just like clockwork.
This week the GOP has thrown that clock out the window.
During his run for the presidency, many social conservatives’ biggest issue with then-candidate Donald Trump was his lack of “pro-life” bona fides. He’d admitted to being in favor of abortion rights in the past and even during the primary debates tripped over condemning Planned Parenthood—the anti-abortion movement’s No. 1 enemy—arguing that the reproductive-health organization has “done very good work … for millions of women.” Even his conversion to hard-core anti-abortion extremist was suspect, with him suggesting “punishment” for women seeking illegal abortion and avoiding the divisive topic as much as possible on the campaign trail.
But with nowhere else to turn, anti-abortion leaders demanded he make a pledge to commit to their major legislative priorities, then offered their grassroots support once he did. That get out the vote effort was likely the factor that gave him his Electoral College win despite actually having millions of votes less than Hillary Clinton, and now the movement is demanding their end of the deal.
And Trump appears more than willing to oblige.
On Monday, the first working day of his administration, Trump signed his first executive orders, and one of those was to reinstate the Mexico City policy, better known as the global gag rule. It was not surprising that a Republican president would reinstate the global gag rule, which had been in place in every GOP administration since Ronald Reagan introduced it in the 1980s. But the fact that he did it on his first day is a clear signal that this is the first of many anti-reproductive-rights moves that the new president will be taking. In response to media inquiries about the president’s priorities, press secretary Sean Spicer responded that Trump “made it very clear that he's a pro-life president” and that he “wants to stand up for all Americans, including the unborn."
Now he’s got plenty of material to work with. On Tuesday, the House passed HR 7, a bill introduced by Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey. Called the “No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion Act,” HR 7 makes both the Hyde Amendment and the ban on abortion coverage in D.C. permanent, ending the yearly possibility of stopping Hyde’s renewal or the potential return of Medicaid funding of abortion in the nation’s capitol (or at least until the Democrats win back every branch of the government at once).
Ironically, D.C. representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, was unable to even vote on the bill because of her status in the House as a non-voting delegate. Much like the way the male dominated House has made it their job to determine what those who are pregnant should do with their bodies, Norton remains utterly silenced as Congress votes to impact the lives of the residents of a city none of them even represent.
“If anyone was wondering about the priorities of the new anti-woman Congress—they’ve shown their cards,” said Destiny Lopez, co-director of All* Above All, via email statement. All* Above All is a national organization working to end the Hyde Amendment. “In just two weeks, they’ve already taken steps to dismantle the ACA and take away birth control coverage, defund Planned Parenthood, and now they’ve re-introduced sweeping legislation to make the Hyde Amendment permanent. Already, too many women are denied abortion coverage because of how much they earn: HR 7 is cruel and callous legislation that would make these discriminatory bans permanent law. This is all part of the Trump-Pence agenda to punish women."
HR 7, which will also ban insurance plans on the federal exchange from offering any coverage of election abortions, is this year’s anniversary gift to the anti-abortion movement as they gather for the annual March for Life. The question is, will the Trump administration be the gift that keeps on giving for abortion opponents? On his list of “pro-life pledges” there are a number of asks still left outstanding. Defunding Planned Parenthood completely, appointing a “Scalia-esque” new Supreme Court justice, and signing federal ban on abortion after 22 weeks gestation are all still waiting in the wings.
And considering this year’s March for Life featured speaker is key Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway, it’s safe to bet that those other promises are going to be kept. In fact at this point, the president appears to be so in step with the anti-abortion movement it wouldn’t be surprising if he is the special “VIP” guest expected to show up at the march itself.
Still, there is no reason to completely give up hope, even with the situation looking this dire. After all, if we’ve learned nothing from watching President Trump over his last year of campaigning, we know that he is a man who is easily swayed by public opinion, who lashes out at those who try to lead him, and who is always looking out for his own self-interest. With any luck, he will quickly turn on the social conservatives using him as a puppet for their own agenda just as quickly as he embraced them in order to get the White House in the first place.
Hopefully his first gifts to the anti-abortion movement will be his last ones.