Skipped the State of the Union? Here Are 3 Key Women’s Health Takeaways

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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