I first read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood in the 1980s, shortly after it was written. I found it a compelling read, but a tale that I thought could never happen in the US. I reread it a couple of years ago and was disturbed by how realistic certain parts of it seemed. Given the advances in automation and technology, I immediately saw how easily the government could take control of the population electronically. One year into the Trump era I am even more disturbed, reflecting on the anti-women proposed FY19 budget, the assaults on women’s reproductive rights spearheaded by this administration, and the regressive values promoted by this administration, such as abstinence-only sex education.
The proposed budget targets women, among other non-white male communities, in several ways. It chips away at Medicaid, which pays for one-half of all births, three-quarters of all dollars spent on family planning, and in seventeen states covers abortions with state dollars. It cuts SNAP, makes eligibility for Medicaid more difficult, cuts job training, cuts funds to coordinate women’s offices, and curtails access to affordable housing and nutrition.
In addition to the cruel budget proposed by this administration is a proposed rule by the Department of Labor that will allow employers to take control of tips. The proposed tip rule is a huge gift to owners of big-chain restaurants, the majority of whose employees are women.
Another way the the Trump administration targets women is by waging an all-out war on reproductive rights. Trump has rolled back the Obama-era mandate on birth control coverage. Companies can now refuse to cover the cost of birth control by seeking a religious or moral exemption. The explanation for the moral exemption is that birth control makes women more promiscuous. Key White House positions are held by anti-abortion figures, the most prominent being Vice-President Pence. The Office of Human Health and Services has opened a new office for “Conscience and Religious Freedom” that reverses Obama-era rules which barred healthcare workers from denying coverage for transgender patients or those seeking abortions. In April of 2017 Trump signed an executive order giving states the ability to defund Planned Parenthood.
Worldwide, the Trump administration has also attacked women’s reproductive rights. Trump has reinstated and expanded the global gag rule that prevents foreign NGOs that are supported by the US from promoting or providing abortions. This has in turn led to defunding groups that give information about safe abortions. The State Department recently curtailed information in its annual human rights report about women’s reproductive rights. Recently the US defunded the United Nations Population Fund, a global maternal health organization that provides contraception and pregnancy care to low-income women in 150 countries.
When she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale, Ms. Atwood was living in West Germany. The totalitarian regime of the Soviets was still in command of East Germany and other Eastern European countries. In an essay written last year for the New York Times on what this book means in the age of Trump, she says that “anything could happen everywhere, given the circumstances.” Instead of hoping that women do not experience any further erosion of their rights under Trump, let’s protect ourselves and our daughters by voting for candidates in 2018 that reflect our values.
Submitted by: Nancy Turner, chair of the Economics committee
Julia Belluz, “How Women’s reproductive rights have stalled under Trump”, Vox, 1/31/2018
Eliza Schultz et al., Fact Sheets: Trump’s FY2019 Budget harms nearly every community across the Country, Center for American Progress, 2/16/2018
Laura Bassett, “In one year, Trump dismantled reproductive rights around the world”, Huffington Post, 1/20/2018
Margaret Atwood, Margaret Atwood on what The Handmaid’s Tale means in the Age of Trump, New York Times, March, 2017