Colleges need to protect women’s rights
The election of President-elect Donald Trump has raised concerns for a number of groups consistently targeted by Trump’s rhetoric and policy proposals, many of which infringed upon the civil liberties of racial and ethnic minorities, throughout the election season. But Trump’s comments about women, from their appearances and roles in the workplace, to what acts constitute sexual assault, were particularly concerning. Despite the misogynistic undertones of Trump’s campaign, 53 percent of white woman voters cast their ballots for him. Like many of Trump’s followers, his female supporters were largely disinterested in social issues. But now that we have elected Trump, it’s important to understand what this means for an issue as critically important as reproductive choice, which arguably affects university women and their livelihoods more than any other demographic.
Though President-elect Trump has yet to comprehensively outline his plans for the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, he has stated on numerous occasions his intent to repeal many parts of the law, which established a public, affordable marketplace of insurance plans. According to 2014 estimates by the Guttmacher Institute, under the ACA, 67 percent of insured women were paying $0 for birth control pills. If women’s health care services are among the facets of Obamacare Trump and his Republican colleagues intend to scrap, in addition to likely cutting funding for Planned Parenthood, which widely offers free or affordable birth control, low-income women and female college students will be disproportionately affected.
In recent years, House Speaker Paul Ryan has led numerous attempts to defund the women’s health organization. Vice President-elect Mike Pence defunded Planned Parenthood while serving as Indiana’s governor, leading to the closure of numerous clinics that did not even offer abortion services, contributing to a mass HIV outbreak in one county. In addition to it being entirely possible that the many young women accessing contraceptive coverage through the ACA, it’s likely that they could lose access to free contraceptive coverage from Planned Parenthood as well.
While exact statistics about the rate of hormonal and long-term birth control use among university women are not available, Guttmacher notes that in 2010, 80 percent of women with sexual experience have used or were using the pill, while 62 percent of women of reproductive age were using a birth control method. Wider access to birth control, likely through ACA options, has notably reduced unplanned pregnancy and abortion rates among young women in recent years, rendering anti-choice politicians like Trump, Pence and Ryan’s subtle crusade on birth control coverage counterproductive. And along with attacking access to contraception, Trump and Pence have both expressed interest in the repeal of Roe v. Wade. Despite the ultimate unlikelihood of this, states like Texas and Indiana with predominantly Republican legislatures are already floating highly restrictive bills.
Many young women attending universities are not employed and reliant on either the health care plans of their parents, their college’s student health care plan, coverage by the ACA or Planned Parenthood for birth control. They are justifiably concerned about their reproductive futures as they pursue higher education in the years to come. Without access to their most fundamental right to take control over their bodies, in addition to the academic stress of attending university, female students will also have to struggle with the anxiety of how to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
For decades, birth control has enabled women to pursue ambitions outside of the domestic sphere, namely making attending college possible for young women. Access to reproductive choice speaks to whether women are perceived by their elected officials as autonomous human beings with the right to pursue academic and professional careers, or objects to be imprisoned by biology and patriarchy. Under the Trump administration, our elected officials have made their perceptions of women clear. And now more than ever, universities across the nation, like the University of Southern California, must stand with the female members of their student body.
At USC, the Women’s Health Team at Engemann Student Health Center offers Long-Acting Reversible Contraception and emergency contraception to insured students, according to its website. With the ACA soon to be dramatically scaled back, USC must speak to how it will keep student insurance plans affordable and crucial services protecting reproductive choice accessible to female students, through all the potential decisions on women’s health care funding the Republican Congress and Trump administration make in the years to come. If USC and other American universities across the nation respect their female students and truly wish to protect their educational prospects, colleges will lay out plans to address female students’ justified concerns with their right to bodily autonomy in the years to come.