When a personal health choice like birth control is placed in jeopardy, it is a sure sign that our nation is in retrogression. In addition to repealing portions of Affordable Care Act, including rolling back its provisions for free birth control, Congress is likely to defund Planned Parenthood and cut Medicaid funding. As many of us are painfully aware, Planned Parenthood offers crucial care and contraceptives, while Medicaid significantly aids low-income women seeking birth control. Yet President Donald Trump is vocal about his pro-life platform — he supports legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks — and Vice President Mike Pence predicts that Roe v. Wade will eventually be overturned. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, has supported employers that have refused to insure birth control, including in the infamous Hobby Lobby case. Likewise, Planned Parenthood gave Trump’s choice for secretary of health and human services, U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-GA, a 0 percent rating for his opposition to reproductive health care. Right now, our country is run by legislators who identify as pro-life while adamantly opposing contraceptives that prevent abortions and treatment that can preserve the life of the mother. This shift should be concerning to all who support reproductive rights.
So far Trump is fulfilling his campaign promises. In the short period of time since he stepped into office, Trump has already damaged lives, most recently with the Jan. 27 executive order barring refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries. His lax moral code, paired with reckless White House leaders and a Congress eager to repeal the ACA, bodes ill for women’s health and women’s rights.
As college students, we are uniquely affected by the potential shift in birth control policies. For most college students, birth control is simply not affordable. Pills cost over $600 per year and intrauterine devices can cost up to $1,000 without insurance. Brown’s Student Health Insurance Plan covers contraceptives, counseling and gynecological services with only a $15 co-pay for long-acting, reversible contraceptives. But for students who are still using family insurance, fees and coverage depend on the provider’s policy. Most insurers cover contraceptives, but that coverage will likely be excluded in whatever new plan the Trump administration proposes. This will set a powerful and discriminatory example.
With the likelihood of imminent change in the accessibility and affordability of contraceptives, people across the country are now forced to consider how birth control policies will affect them. This is particularly troubling for those in college, who often rely on family insurance. Four years or more under a Trump presidency, along with the long-term precedents of pro-life legislation and Supreme Court rulings, may have serious implications for any person who uses or may someday use birth control. This could mean a giant step backward in reproductive rights.
The day after the election, many of my friends began to think of those implications — so did I. There was only a short window of time before the inauguration, condensing what can be a lengthy decision-making and consulting process to identify and obtain birth control. Those who had not considered birth control before faced a difficult or perhaps loaded tasks: They had to organize appointments to assess which options were possible and then physically receive the birth control all in just a few months. Others felt pressure to renew their pills or insert a new IUD to last the next four years.
Unfortunately, we do not live in a state that facilitates these difficult decisions. In 2016, NARAL Pro-Choice America gave Rhode Island an “F” for its policies regarding reproductive rights. In the Ocean State, public funds support abortion only in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother. As of 2014, Rhode Island had just five facilities that provide abortions. It is also worth keeping in mind that many of Rhode Island’s Democratic state legislators do not support Planned Parenthood funding. For a state that is famously blue, Rhode Island’s legislature is not progressive on women’s rights.
So now — more than ever — it is the time to donate to Planned Parenthood, volunteer at women’s health centers and campaign for reproductive rights. Here on campus, NARAL Pro-Choice Brown University is hosting a panel Feb. 9 centered on reproductive rights in Rhode Island. State Representative Edith Ajello, D-Providence and State Senator Gayle Goldin, D-Providence will also introduce bills to protect abortion rights that are not currently guaranteed if Roe v. Wade is overturned. If you feel strongly about this pressing issue, you can and should write to your Rhode Island representative to encourage them to vote for those future bills.
Building off the momentum of the Women’s March, we cannot let ourselves feel discouraged. Even though there may be little hope in our newly-elected government, we need to maintain the visibility of these issues to prevent a loss of access to birth control and reproductive rights.
Grace Johnson ’19 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and other op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.