After four years of fury and frustration at the Trump administration’s attacks on reproductive rights and family planning, advocates have cause to be optimistic in the aftermath of the election. Former Vice President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump to become the 46th President of the United States. Biden has pledged to repeal the Global Gag Rule. He is also expected to support robust funding for bilateral international family planning programs and restore the U.S. contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which had been prohibited by the Trump administration.
Control of the U.S. Senate will hinge on a pair of January runoff elections in Georgia, where no candidate in either race met the 50-percent-plus-one-vote threshold required by state election rules. In the House of Representatives, it appeared that family planning supporters would maintain a majority, though at our press deadline there were more than a dozen seats that remained uncalled.
New Global Gag Rule Expansion Proposed
Even as we look to the future, we cannot afford to forget that, for the time being, the Trump administration remains in charge, and that its members plan to continue their fight against reproductive health and rights to the very end. On September 14, the administration published a new proposed rule that would further expand the Global Gag Rule. Until now, all versions of the Gag Rule have applied to grants and cooperative agreements. If enacted, the new rule would include contracts, potentially impacting an entirely new category of global health programs and organizations. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that nearly 40 percent of global health funding flows through contracts.
Because this expansion is being done through the regulatory process, rather than through legislation, it is subject to a “notice and comment” period, during which any interested party may submit a question, comment, or other concern about the proposed rule, to which the administration must respond before it can finalize the regulation. The public comment period closed on November 13, and the hope is that the Trump administration will not have time to respond to all submitted comments and begin implementing the rule before President-elect Biden takes office and withdraws it from consideration.
Supreme Court Tips Further to the Right
On September 18, the clerk of the Supreme Court announced that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died of complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer. The 87-year-old justice, who had previously survived multiple bouts of cancer, dictated in a final statement to one of her granddaughters that her “most fervent wish” was that she would not be replaced until after the inauguration of the next president.
Less than 24 hours later, with early and absentee voting already underway in multiple states, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that Donald Trump’s nominee—whoever it was—would receive not only a confirmation hearing, but also a vote on the Senate floor before November 3, defying the precedent he himself set in 2016 with his refusal to consider President Obama’s Merrick Garland nomination during an election year. On September 26, Donald Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who he had previously appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in November 2017. Barrett, who once clerked for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, has an extensive history of extremely conservative viewpoints. She has called for the repeal of Roe vs. Wade, ruled that the use of the n-word in the workplace did not constitute a hostile work environment, and criticized the 2012 Supreme Court ruling preserving the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
After four days of hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the committee voted 12–0 to send the nomination to the floor, with all 10 Democrats on the committee having boycotted the vote. On October 26, the Senate confirmed Barrett to the Supreme Court by a vote of 52–48. Every Republican senator except Susan Collins (R-ME) voted to confirm her, including Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, who had earlier voted against the nomination on procedural grounds. The ideological balance of the Court is now 6–3, in favor of conservatives. By the time this issue reaches your mailbox, the Court will already have heard cases that could overturn both the ACA and Roe.
Trump Attacks Reproductive Rights at the UN
In late September, the United Nations General Assembly held its first-ever virtual convening. World leaders—including Donald Trump—sent pre-recorded speeches to mark the occasion. Trump used his time to praise himself for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic (which he referred to as the “China virus”), and extol U.S. support for human rights, specifically mentioning “the unborn” on a list of vulnerable groups the U.S. seeks to protect. His administration also continued its long-running effort to use international organizations to undermine sexual and reproductive health and rights. Along with Brazil, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, and Uganda, the U.S. co-sponsored the Geneva Consensus, a non-binding international anti-abortion declaration.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar participated in the virtual signing ceremony on October 22. At the ceremony, Pompeo reiterated the position that “there is no international right to abortion,” and said that the Geneva Consensus promotes women’s health, “defends the unborn, and reiterates the vital importance of the family.” There has apparently been significant behind-the-scenes lobbying to convince other countries to sign on, as well.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
March 15, 1933 – September 18, 2020
A giant has fallen. In the wake of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing, this nation is poorer. For all of her 87 years, Justice Ginsburg never shied away from the battles that needed to be fought—on the contrary, she went looking for them. In the parlance of the current day, she persisted.
Through advancing age and infirmity, through the death of the beloved husband who supported and encouraged her throughout her remarkable career, through multiple bouts of cancer, she persisted. And now we must as well.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was always worth admiring—for her unapologetic ambition (at a time when, even more so than now, women were punished for it), for her keen mind, and for her understanding that the law must be not only an instrument of power, but also of justice.
Her loss is all the more crushing because of where we find ourselves today: fighting against those who have ambition without ideals, cunning without wisdom, and a will to power utterly lacking in compassion.
She was a bulwark, and now she is gone. But the torch has not been extinguished; it has been passed—to all of us.
May her memory be a blessing. May her memory be a revolution. And may her memory inspire us all as we continue to fight for the rights and dignity of people everywhere.