At a campaign event just a few days before the election, Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) delivered a message to female voters: “I want every woman to know there’s a place for you in America if you are pro-life, if you embrace your religion and you follow a traditional family structure—that you can go anywhere, young lady.”
Meanwhile, at a campaign rally a few states away, Donald Trump offered this to suburban female voters, a demographic he is desperately trying to woo back: “I’m also getting your husbands, they want to get back to work, right? They want to get back to work. We’re getting your husbands back to work.” And in case this wasn’t enough, he reassured voters that he loves women “much more than the men.” “They’re the greatest,” he claims, before reverting quickly to his more common approach of insulting anyone and everyone. (“LeBron James sucks” is being chanted at a Trump rally somewhere at this very moment.)
If this is the best the GOP has to offer women in the year 2020, they deserve to be as doomed as the polls suggest they are. They haven’t got a clue about the issues facing American women or even a modicum of interest in gender equality. The last four years have included such a dizzying array of assaults on women’s rights that it’s frankly hard to remember them all. But if Biden wins the White House, and Democrats take control of the House and Senate, they will have not only the opportunity but also the obligation to restore what the modern GOP has destroyed.
Step 1: Make Sexual Assault Bad Again
One of the greatest insults to women’s rights is the mere fact that a man who has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than twenty women holds the highest office in the land. The inflammatory Access Hollywood video, in which Trump brags about his ability to sexually assault women because “when you’re a star . . . you can do anything.” (If you have a desire to relive the brief scandal in more detail, click here.) Trump dismissed the video as “locker room banter,” and he went on to win the presidential election. He won despite this scandal, and a virtual flood of allegations from women who say he groped them on airplanes, at parties, in department store dressing rooms, at beauty pageants, and other places where women have the nerve to take up space. He has never been called to account for these allegations. Even worse, he has used his power and taxpayer money to defend against one. The Department of Justice, under the inauspicious leadership of Bill Barr, had the audacity to try and intervene on Trump’s behalf in a civil lawsuit brought by E. Jean Carroll who alleges Trump raped her in the 1990s. Barr claims that Trump was acting in his official capacity as President when he denied Carroll’s allegations, a position recently rejected by a federal district court judge.
But the damage Trump has done to sexual assault victims extends far beyond the circle of those hurt by him personally. Through his Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Trump has rolled back protections for victims of sexual assault in schools and universities across the country. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights promulgated new Title IX regulations that intentionally make it much more difficult for sexual assault victims to bring claims or receive redress for harm. (An analysis of the rules before they became final can be found here and here.) DeVos was open about her intent to eliminate the need for schools to respond to anything but the most egregious cases of sexual assault on campus. Trump also made it more difficult for women employed by government contractors to complain about sexual harassment.
Step 2: Make Women Employed Again
The pandemic has laid bare many societal equalities. People of color have been greatly harmed by their disproportionate representation among essential workers, higher density living arrangements, and those with less access to health insurance and thus healthcare. Women have also taken a much bigger hit than men due to a variety of factors. Industries in which women are overrepresented—retail, restaurants, and healthcare—all were hurt by shutdowns and lessening demand due to the general slowdown of the economy. Women are also less likely to hold jobs that can be done remotely. Moreover, as daycares and schools were closed or operating on a reduced schedule, women were saddled with a sudden increase in childcare responsibilities, which is disproportionately done by women even in households where a mother and father both work full time. While the Great Recession of 2008 was sometimes termed a “mancession,” the pandemic recession is a “shecession.” Women’s unemployment rose more than men’s due to COVID-19, and the partial recovery has benefitted men more than women. More women are simply dropping out of the workforce now—not even looking for jobs—due to the effects of the pandemic. (A comprehensive analysis can be found here.) And women are also hurt by Trump’s general anti-worker policies.
The effects of the pandemic on women’s employment are a grave insult to injury. Before COVID-19, the Trump administration had taken dozens if not hundreds of actions that have reduced economic security for women and families. This report by American Progress lists 100 such actions, and it was published after only a single year of his presidency. These actions run the gamut from reducing the ability to enforce fair pay laws to cutting support for caregivers to cutting nutrition assistance. And he has nominated almost no women to leadership positions in his own Cabinet or for judgeships, except those who espouse extreme anti-woman views such as Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Step 3: Make Women Autonomous Again
Right out of the gate, the Trump administration has been waging a war on women’s sexual and reproductive health. The harms are almost too numerous to count. As one of his first actions, Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy (also known as the Global Gag Rule), which prohibits foreign non-governmental organizations from receiving U.S. aid if they perform abortions, even with non-U.S. money, or provide any information about abortion to patients or clients. While Trump did not invent this rule—it was first instituted by Ronald Reagan after a U.N. Population Conference in Mexico City—he greatly expanded it by applying it to all foreign aid rather than just family planning aid (a tenfold increase in coverage) and did not exempt organizations working on HIV/AIDS relief, as President George W. Bush had done. He also gutted funding for the United Nations Population Fund, which provides family planning services globally.
He then crafted a “domestic gag rule” that imposed the same restrictions on organizations in the United States, something not done by previous Republican presidents. This had the effect of reducing the patient capacity of family planning clinics funded by Title X, the national family planning law that subsidizes care for low-income women, by half. Almost 1,000 family planning clinics left the Title X network because of the rule, leaving untold numbers of women without access to affordable birth control, cancer screenings, and other types of sexual and reproductive healthcare.
He appointed Teresa Manning, a birth-control “skeptic,” to oversee the Title X funding. He also appointed an anti-abortion zealot, Scott Lloyd, to run the Office of Refugee Settlement, an appointment that earned three years in court over Lloyd’s unconstitutional policy of refusing to permit detained minors to access abortion. This policy was finally rescinded just this month in a settlement with the ACLU.
Trump also initiated a separate war on contraception by trying to reduce coverage in employment-based insurance policies. Regulations under the Affordable Care Act mandate that insurance plans provide coverage for a variety of services deemed essential to women’s health, including prescription contraceptives, at no cost to the patient. The Supreme Court narrowed the scope of the contraceptive mandate in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014), a case in which it held that a closely held for-profit corporation could refuse to cover contraception based on the religious beliefs of the owners. The Trump administration took this even further, issuing an executive order permitting employers to refuse to cover contraception in their insurance plans based on “sincerely held religious beliefs” or “moral convictions,” regardless of their corporate form or tie to any organized religion.
The import of these actions is to reduce women’s access to sexual and reproductive healthcare, especially for poor women and women of color. And all of this is simply a precursor to the repeal of Roe v. Wade that Trump hopes he has secured by appointing three extreme anti-abortion conservatives to the Supreme Court (Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett). As soon as 2021, this newly composed Court may eliminate or drastically reduce the constitutional protection for pre-viability abortion—a goal of the current GOP, but a deeply unpopular position in this country.
Trump boasted in an August 2020 tweet that he’s “done more for WOMEN than just about any President in HISTORY!” It would be more accurate to say he’s done more TO women, than for them. He can hardly mention women without insulting or disparaging them, a habit that long predates his time in the Oval Office. As comedian Amber Ruffin explains, he has done more for women—to make their lives worse.