If you watched the State of the Union address and saw white, it may not have been solely the result of a fit of rage triggered by watching the president speak for more than an hour. Many of the Democratic women who are members of the U.S. House of Representatives wore white at the event to honor the suffragists who fought for — and won — women’s right to vote a century ago.
Wardrobe significance aside, women featured prominently in the 82-minute speech and news coverage, with cameras frequently zooming in on newly minted congressperson Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) to get her reaction to Donald Trump’s proposals. So, what did these policies entail and what do they mean for women’s health? Here are a few key takeaways:
Our reproductive rights are still under threat
It’s no secret Trump has been trying to chip away at our access to safe and effective reproductive health care since the day he took office. During the State of the Union, he claimed that lawmakers in New York cheered when the Reproductive Health Act passed, which enshrined the protections afforded by Roe v. Wade into law in the state.
Specifically, he alleged that this legislation allows “a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments from birth.” He then called on Congress to pass legislation to prohibit “the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in a mother’s womb.”
OK, so a few things with that. First of all, the phrase “late-term abortion” is widely considered medically inaccurate (by people who understand science, that is). Not to mention that people who are anti-abortion rights refer to any abortion after 12 weeks as “late-term,” which is hardly “moments before birth,” as the president claims.
— Jennifer Gunter (@DrJenGunter) February 6, 2019
Not one thing POTUS just said about abortion in his #SOTU speech is medically accurate or based in any evidence-based research. Not his fabricated description of the law in New York. Not the bill in Virginia. Not how abortions are performed. Not one bit.https://t.co/sjhSrt9lVy
— Dr. Daniel Grossman (@DrDGrossman) February 6, 2019
Second, Trump requested a 20-week abortion ban on the basis of fetal pain. But studies, like a 2005 systematic review of the evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that a fetus can’t perceive pain until the 26-week mark.
POTUS is calling for a national 20-week abortion ban based on “fetal pain”, however that's not based in any research. Our best evidence-based research indicates a fetus cannot perceive pain until the third trimester, 26 weeks, not 20 weeks. #SOTU https://t.co/PsoxO8nrsj
— Dr. Daniel Grossman (@DrDGrossman) February 6, 2019
Finally, Trump (and everyone else) should know that nearly 99 percent of abortions take place before the 21-week mark. The abortions that happen after typically take place in situations in which the mother’s life is at risk or the fetus has been diagnosed with life-threatening abnormalities. People don’t just procrastinate when it comes to ending a pregnancy; when it happens after 20 weeks, it’s for a reason.
I'm a doctor so I have to look at the facts.
About 1% of abortions occur after 24 weeks, and when they do occur, they are often due to complex circumstances. Just take Alexis' story. https://t.co/L8XVQ4NVBQ
— Leana Wen, M.D. (@DrLeanaWen) February 6, 2019
Conflicting HIV/AIDS strategies
In another part of the State of the Union address, the president called for Congress to make a commitment to “eliminate the HIV epidemic” in the United States within 10 years. Sure, that sounds great in theory, but in practice, Trump has done nothing but take action to contradict that.
The president and his administration support abstinence-only sex education — which not only doesn’t work in terms of preventing unplanned pregnancy but also withholds potentially lifesaving information on HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
Then there’s Trump’s proposed “gag rule,” that would take Title X funding away from providers that even discuss the option of abortion with patients. That’s problematic in itself, but it’s especially troubling when you consider that some clinics that are primarily funded through Title X are often the sole source of HIV testing in rural and other underserved communities, Rewire News reported.
— NARAL (@NARAL) February 6, 2019
Need proof? Look no further than the HIV epidemic that broke out in Indiana when Vice President Mike Pence was governor thanks to his anti-abortion rights policies, including cutting funding to Planned Parenthood.
Some sort of paid family leave
Toward the beginning of the address, Trump received applause from Republicans for his proposed paid family leave policy.
“I am also proud to be the first president to include in my budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave — so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child,” he said.
Literally, his next sentence was: “There could be no greater contrast to the beautiful image of a mother holding her infant child than the chilling displays our nation saw in recent days. Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.” What a segue.
FACT CHECK: Trump's "paid family leave" plan would not offer benefits that are meaningful and would be especially inadequate for workers with lower incomes and wages – and eligibility rules may exclude even new parents who need leave the most. #SOTU #StateofOurUnion
— NWLC (@nwlc) February 6, 2019
Bizarre transition aside, the president never actually elaborated on what this paid family leave plan would entail, but if it’s anything like the one Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ivanka Trump proposed in 2018, it leaves a lot to be desired. The main reason for this is that it’s actually unpaid family leave. The so-called “payments” would come from your own Social Security retirement fund that you would be permitted to access earlier than usual.
Do we want paid family leave, more research funding for childhood cancer and an end to the HIV epidemic within a decade? Of course. But given the president’s track record on health — especially when it comes to women’s health — we’re not convinced he’s on the same page.