At the end of 2016, Republican congressional leaders announced their intent to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and slash funding for Planned Parenthood. Opponents of reproductive rights have already taken bold steps since the election of the anti-abortion Trump-Pence administration. State legislatures in Indiana, Texas, Ohio, Oklahoma and others passed more than 60 restrictions on access to abortion in 2016 alone and are slated to vote on additional restrictions immediately in the new year. In light of these threats, through ballots, education, activism and — ultimately — staying informed, millennials can and must use their voices to fight for everyone’s continued ability to access reproductive healthcare.
Numerous liberal thinkers and leaders, from political talk show host Bill Maher to former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, suggested the failure of the Democratic Party in this election was rooted in the purported focus on “identity politics” and social issues instead of the frustrations of the working class. The most dangerous aspect of this analysis is that it suggests identity-related issues, such as reproductive rights, should be ignored to advance a political party at the direct expense of women of reproductive age across the nation. Futhermore, this perspective ignores the fact that access to reproductive healthcare is an issue of high importance to many Americans, especially young adults. The ability to control one’s body is linked to upward mobility and educational success. President-elect Donald Trump has demonstrated alarming apathy for women’s ability to access safe, legal abortion. Perhaps most prominently, Trump suggested women should be punished for having abortions. Vice President-elect Mike Pence notoriously defunded Planned Parenthood in his state of Indiana and redirected funding for low-income families to anti-choice organizations. In November, House Speaker Paul Ryan identified birth control as merely a “nitty gritty” detail of healthcare policy.
Despite these challenges to women’s ability to access crucial healthcare, the issue of reproductive rights continues to be dismissed. Such a perspective ignores, for women from all walks of life, the importance of access to the resources necessary to control their bodies. To access reproductive healthcare, financially dependent and low-income women, many of whom are millennials, rely on the government to acknowledge their struggle and make reproductive resources a financial priority. The Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate is the source of 67 percent of insured American women’s free birth control and 80 percent of Planned Parenthood’s millions of patients, on top of access to breast exams, pap smears, STD testing and other reproductive health services from the organization.
Indeed, recent reproductive healthcare initiatives have enjoyed considerable success. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in August revealed that wider access to contraception had substantially decreased teenage pregnancy and birth rates between 2007 and 2013. Under President Barack Obama, the national abortion rate dropped from 16 abortions for every 1,000 women to 12.5 from the beginning of the Bush administration, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
On top of this, in 2015, economists predicted that defunding Planned Parenthood would cost the federal government $130 million every 10 years, with young women paying the price — and unable to access basic healthcare. Investing in contraception and sexual health education for young women directly results in fewer unwanted pregnancies, abortions and poor and often single mothers becoming trapped in poverty after being forced to drop out of school.
Roe v. Wade itself can no longer single-handedly ensure that women’s dignities and rights as born, incontrovertibly living humans will be prioritized over fertilized eggs and fetuses. Only the continued advocacy of politically active women can guard against this influx of legislative and cultural opposition to reproductive rights. Despite being most vulnerable to these attacks on the ability to make the choice, young women also wield far more power than they are led to believe.