This past weekend, millions of people across the nation took to the streets, as an act of resistance against President Donald Trump in the name of women everywhere. While the march was empowering and inspiring (despite sometimes lacking intersectionality), it also underscored that the threat to women from Trump—especially women of color—is very real. In fact, the new administration has wasted no time attempting to undercut women’s health and healthcare both at home and abroad.
Today, President Trump signed an executive order banning U.S. funding of international NGOs that provide abortions, provide information about abortion, or even mention the word “abortion” (also known as the “global gag rule”). The gag rule was first deployed by Ronald Reagan in 1984, and was subsequently revoked by Bill Clinton, reinstated by George W. Bush, revoked again by Barack Obama, and now reinstated again by Trump. As you might guess, it does nothing to reduce abortion rates—in 2011, the World Health Organization found that the last time the gag rule was enacted, abortion rates worldwide went up 40%.
While the gag rule winds up denying people access to contraceptives, family planning resources, screenings, and other reproductive health care, it also forces women to undergo unsafe abortions. According to the WHO, deaths due to unsafe abortions make up about 13% of all maternal deaths. The group Ipas found that in 2007, the gag rule contributed to 3,000 deaths of women in Nigeria due to unsafe abortions. So Trump’s decision to reinstate the order will be disastrous and deadly for women of color living in rural areas and/or in poverty around the world.
But that’s not to say that things aren’t already pretty bad for women of color in the U.S.
A recent study in the journal Cancer, for instance, found that not only is the death rate from cervical cancer higher than previous estimates, but the racial disparity in these deaths is much more expansive than previously thought. The study found that while the cervical cancer mortality rate for white women was 4.7 per 100,000 women, the rate for black women is a whopping 10.1.
It’s not exactly news that women of color often suffer from medical conditions at a disproportional rate and have a harder time accessing health care. While the rate of breast cancer is slightly lower in black women than it is in white women, the breast cancer mortality rate in black women was 39% higher than it was in white women in 2013. Women of color also disproportionately suffer from diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Women of color are already more likely to be uninsured than white women. They need broader and better health care options to be able to tackle these challenges. But, rather than try to expand upon the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration is trying to kill it. The revelation that the situation for black women is much worse when it comes to cervical cancer (a particularly devastating fact given that 93% of cervical cancers are preventable with screenings and the HPV vaccine) is a dark reminder that women of color stand to lose a great deal from the repeal of Obamacare.
Of course, the right to a safe, legal abortion is also in immense danger right now, with Paul Ryan announcing cuts to federal funding for Planned Parenthood as part of the ACA repeal and with a conservative majority about to be newly re-enshrined on the Supreme Court. Black women are five times more likely than their white counterparts to undergo abortions, and Latinx women are twice as likely, a fact linked to the lack of access women of color have to insurance and contraceptives as well as issues stemming from socioeconomic status and structural racism. Axing Obamacare and federal support of Planned Parenthood will put those women at risk as well. (On top of that, sites like GetYourCare.org are deliberately spreading false information regarding resources women can seek for health care as an alternative to Planned Parenthood. A report from Rewire shows the site is recommending jails, schools, and homeless shelters, many of whom were utterly bewildered by the suggestion that they would provide comprehensive health care for women.)
Republicans have yet to fully act on their Obamacare dreams. But Trump’s slashing of women’s health care funds around the world could be a grim preview of what’s to come for women in America.