The Women’s March created a spark of female millennial activism in January that spread to cities across the nation. It all feels like a distant memory now. That is not to say that young women across this nation and across all stages of life have taken a step back since January; they remain active and vigilant in tracking the new presidential administration’s attacks on their rights, but nonetheless, these attacks are still being dealt seemingly on the daily in continuous blows.
As a result of these blows, earlier this month, a new study by the Population Reference Bureau claims millennial American women are worse off than their mothers were at their age in the era of President Donald Trump, with rising incarceration rates, higher poverty rates and increases in suicide and maternal mortality. This study sharply contradicts a powerful, overarching narrative that young women today live cushioned lives, and merits new dialogue and support for a demographic that has become a vulnerable target in today’s political climate.
“It looks like millennial women’s progress has stalled and slightly reversed relative to their mothers’ and their grandmothers’ generations,” Mark Mather, an author of the study, told the Huffington Post.
The study reveals maternal mortality rates have risen substantially; the United States has a higher mortality rate of 19.2 pregnancy-related deaths for every 100,000 pregnancies, up from 7.5 since the Baby Boomer generation. This number is greater than in any other developed nation, and the United States is the only developed nation with a rate that is rising, not decreasing. New struggles in accessing reproductive health care and receiving adequate health insurance in recent years appear to be driving this. With the pending Senate health care bill that threatens to freeze one year of federal funding for Planned Parenthood, these policies jeopardize the direction of women’s progress
“During the 1970s, as abortion policies were liberalized, maternal mortality rates fell dramatically,” the report states. “In recent years, the maternal mortality rate rose as federal and state policies began restricting access to reproductive health services.”
The study also notes that “improvements in fetal and infant care” made over the past decades, despite being “designed to reduce infant mortality and improve child health, have not been paralleled by — and have sometimes come at the expense of — care for women in the postpartum period.”
Historically speaking, in the wake of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, there was hardly a shortage of open abortion clinics. Now, many states in rural America have only one or two abortion clinics to serve millions of women, as a result of new laws targeting these clinics over the past five years.
Regulations known as TRAP laws, an acronym for “targeted regulation of abortion providers,” impose medically unnecessary and expensive hospital requirements on clinics, resulting in many closing, as clinics do not receive funding to offer abortion under federal law. Despite how these laws are passed in the name of keeping women safe, by closing clinics that offer a crucial health service, they tend to have the opposite effect.
And simultaneously, with renewed attacks on the Obama-era Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, as well as the passage of legislation that will allow states to withhold federal funding from Planned Parenthood, many young women are losing access to the resources that allowed their mothers to receive educations and work.
Previous academic studies have revealed how access to affordable birth control allowed millions of women to thrive by granting them autonomy over their bodies and, as a result due to the inherent interconnectedness of economic enfranchisement and reproductive justice, live with economic security. President Trump has not been shy about his intent to dismantle the Obama administration’s legacy across the board, but President Obama’s hand in expanding women’s rights is taking a disproportionately powerful blow, as these gains made over the previous presidential administration are now being torn apart. At this point, researchers and women’s health experts can really only guess the disastrous consequences these policies will unleash on women’s futures.
These renewed struggles to accessing crucial health care run parallel to rising poverty rates among young women. The poverty rate among this demographic has spiked 37 percent in the last 15 years, making it exponentially more difficult for these women to access the health care they need.
With costs of living on the rise and continual, systemic bias skewing the opportunities women have access to, poverty has largely become a young women’s issue — one the Trump administration seems content to ignore. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has previously expressed doubt that women can’t afford birth control, while Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has taken an active role in making student loans more unforgiving for college students. Simultaneously, in proposed budgets, Trump’s budget directors are consistently slashing the social safety net to pieces.
This study offers a fresh rebuttal to these stereotypes but simultaneously offers young women little encouragement. It’s so often said that the Women’s March must be treated as a “start,” that this activism must not go away, and indeed, this new study speaks for itself.
But in addition to sending young women the clear message that they have their work cut out for them, its findings will also hopefully yield a new culture of support and respect toward this demographic, rather than one that undermines their life experiences.