NYT: New administration could endanger reproductive health care 'for millions of women'

December 8, 2016 — The new administration "could put reproductive health care out of reach for millions of women, especially those living in poverty," a New York Times editorial states.

According to the editorial, President-elect Donald Trump has pledged "to appoint a Supreme Court justice who opposes Roe v. Wade, but overturning that decision would be a long process, probably requiring two new justices." However, the editorial notes that "[e]ven without that change, there are many potent ways to restrict reproductive rights -- including not defending them against legal attack."

The editorial explains that the Obama administration has for many years "waged long battles against such attacks." For instance, the Department of Justice "supported abortion providers in their successful challenge against unconstitutional abortion restrictions in the 2016 Supreme Court case Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt"; "defended the provision of the Affordable Care Act [(ACA) (PL 111-148)] that requires insurers to cover birth control without a co-pay"; and continues to "enforc[e] the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act [FACE Act], which protects abortion providers and patients from violence and intimidation."

Further, following multiple state attempts "to bar Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid reimbursements, the administration warned them that such measures could violate federal law." Moreover, the editorial cites a proposed rule from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) "that would bar states from cutting off federal family-planning funds to any provider for ideological reasons."

However, the editorial explains that if Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a staunch abortion-rights opponent, "is confirmed as attorney general, the Justice Department is unlikely to defend reproductive rights." For instance, the department might "stop fighting lawsuits challenging the [ACA's] contraceptive coverage requirement" and "stop enforcing the FACE Act, leaving abortion providers with little recourse if anti-abortion extremists threaten patients or doctors or obstruct clinic entrances."

Further, the new administration under Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who as a member of Congress tried to defund Planned Parenthood, "could stop enforcing the Medicaid reimbursement law that prohibits states from discriminating against Planned Parenthood." In addition, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), if confirmed as HHS secretary, "could as head of that department rescind the contraceptive coverage requirement." According to the editorial, "Such federal actions may well embolden some [conservative]-controlled state governments to further restrict reproductive rights."

However, the editorial notes that "[w]hile the picture is bleak, there are ways states can ameliorate the harm." For example, according to the editorial, states could mandate that insurers cover contraception at no out-of-pocket cost, a requirement already in effect in four states. In addition, states could boost family planning funding and "pass their own clinic safety laws to protect women and abortion providers."

The editorial concludes, "Recent years have seen real progress in reproductive health, from lower rates of teenage pregnancy to more effective contraceptive use. Those are gains for Americans to build upon, not undo" (New York Times, 12/7).