Just over four years ago, on Jan. 21, 2017, women around the world took to the streets to protest the inauguration of Former President Donald Trump and statements he had made that were considered offensive to women.
In Washington D.C., waves of pink overflowed the streets as hundreds of thousands of people marched against the threat the Trump administration represented against women’s reproductive and civil rights.
Four years later, waves of red, white, and blue replaced the pink “p*ssy” hats in the streets of the United States capital as Trump supporters protested the inauguration of new President Joe Biden. Biden is taking over a country scarred by political division, and reproductive rights are no exception.
What happened during the last four years?
Very quickly into his presidency, Trump positioned himself as an anti-abortion president – he was even the first sitting president to speak at the March for Life, an annual anti-abortion rally.
Between the threats to Roe v. Wade and efforts to restrict abortion access, reproductive’s rights came under fire. To curtail abortion, Trump pushed to restrict access to contraception services and cut federal funding for family planning,
Since 1970, Title X had funded a network of providers throughout the U.S. to provide birth control services, STI testing and treatment, and other preventive care. In March 2019, the Trump administration dismantled the program by overhauling its administrative regulations. The administration cut Title X funding from any health care provider who would refer patients to abortion services. It is estimated that 1,000 health care clinics across the country lost federal funding following what is widely known as the “gag rule.”
When Biden took office, he started by overruling many of his predecessor’s policies – including the Mexico City policy – or the “global gag rule.”
“The best way to describe them is to undo the damage Trump has done,” Biden said as he signed the executive orders.
Through a presidential memorandum, Biden immediately rescinded the policy and directed the Department of Health and Human Service to take action to rescind regulations established under Trump that cut millions in federal funds for abortion providers.
The gag rule policy had extensive consequences worldwide – consequences probably unexpected even by Trump – and research shows that Trump’s ban on abortion funding led to more abortions.
While abortion is difficult to measure because of the sensitivity and taboo around it, it is estimated that abortions increased by 40% in countries that relied on U.S. funding. Indeed, most of the organizations that provided abortion services also provided contraceptive services – without them there is less contraceptive use and therefore, more pregnancies.
So when Biden prepared to sign the executive orders on January 28, there was more at stake than to overrule another of Trump’s policies – it was the lives of women around the world that could change.
While Biden’s executive order is claimed as a victory by reproductive rights advocates, others caution that it is only the first step of a long journey ahead. The damage caused by the gag rule is vast, and it will require work to rebuild an accessible health care system for women.
“The tail of the Global Gag is very long,” a U.S. congressional aide who works on global health issues told CNN, “it’s not a matter of flipping a switch and suddenly women…have access to care they didn’t have before.”
So what change can we expect the next four years to bring?
Over the decades, it seems Biden’s position on reproductive rights has changed quite a bit. As the second Catholic president of the U.S., Biden’s position on abortion appears at odds with his religion.
Even though he was a longtime supporter of the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal funds for abortion services except in cases of rape, incest, or life-threatening circumstances, Biden stated he no longer supported the ban in 2019.
While Biden’s stance on abortion has evolved over the years, he has now expressed his support for reproductive rights.
“It’s a woman’s right to do that. Period,” Biden said at a Democratic primary debate back in February.
What are Biden’s next steps?
According to Harper’s Bazaar, Biden said he wants to build on the progress made by the Affordable Care Act, which covers access to preventive care and contraceptives. He also vowed to appoint Supreme Court judges who will support Roe v. Wade and said he wants to “codify” the ruling as it isn’t included in the Constitution.
Considered a ”puppet” of the left by some conservatives and a moderate by some liberals, Biden’s position on key issues such as abortion will be key to determine the country’s ability to agree on what the future of America can look like.