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Op-ed explores what is at stake for reproductive rights under new administration

November 16, 2016 — In an opinion piece for Slate's "XX Factor," columnist Christina Cauterucci discusses what is at stake for reproductive health under the new administration by examining the antiabortion-rights stance of Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

Citing a recent interview between MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Cauterucci writes that Pence "wants to ban abortion even in cases of rape or incest; he governed a state that sentenced Purvi Patel to 20 years in prison on 'feticide' charges for allegedly self-inducing an abortion; and he backed and signed an Indiana bill [HEA 1337], now blocked by a federal court, that would have required women to hold funerals for [fetal tissue resulting from abortion] and banned abortions sought for fetal [anomalies]."

According to Cauterucci, Richards during the interview reiterated Planned Parenthood's pledge to remain open despite possible attempts to roll back abortion rights under President-elect Donald Trump's administration. However, the organization could face substantial obstacles, Cauterucci writes, noting, "Besides the very real specter of a conservative Supreme Court majority overturning Roe v. Wade, one of the gravest threats Trump and Pence pose to reproductive health is their promise to scrap the Affordable Care Act" (ACA) (PL 111-148).

She explains that the ACA requires almost all insurers to cover all contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), "relieving [low-income] and marginalized women of a major financial burden and making it easier for them to prevent [unintended] pregnancies." The new administration could "gut" the law by refusing to appeal a lawsuit challenging part of the ACA or "refus[ing] to enforce the provisions of the act, rendering it nearly ineffective," Cauterucci writes.

According to Cauterucci, "This means that birth control coverage is no guarantee" under the new administration. As a result, some women are seeking out contraception now, she writes, noting that Richards during the interview "told Maddow that Planned Parenthood has already been getting calls from new patients who want appointments to get long-acting reversible contraception [LARC], like intrauterine devices and implants, before they lose that coverage."

Cauterucci explains that some antiabortion-rights "legislation has even sought to ban some kinds of birth control under the argument that a just-fertilized egg is a human being." She writes, "In a truly apocalyptic ... scenario, contraceptives that aren't barrier methods like condoms -- which Pence thinks are too modern and don't work anyway -- could be prohibited or harder to get." In turn, "[p]aired with attacks on abortion rights and access, barriers to contraception could mean a sharp resurgence of teen births and [unintended] pregnancies," Cauterucci writes.

Further, Cauterucci notes women might consider accessing LARC now because the FDA "is a political entity with the capacity to affect how and if patients can access drugs like emergency contraception and the abortion pill." For instance, she explains that FDA under George W. Bush's administration "refused for months to decide whether Plan B, the morning-after pill, could be sold over the counter."

According to Cauterucci, "Mike Pence has spent his entire career on an obsessive mission to keep women from getting reproductive health care." She writes, "In 2011, he became the first person in Congress to try to defund Planned Parenthood, even threatening to shut down the government over it." Further, Pence has previously tried to distinguish "between rape and 'forcible rape,' with the intention of banning victims of the former from accessing abortion care," Cauterucci writes.

She concludes, "The forthcoming admin[i]stration will surely set reproductive health care back. The only question is how far it'll go, and whether two months' advance notice will let women adequately prepare for the onslaught" (Cauterucci, "XX Factor," Slate, 11/10).