Between 2007 and 2015, the rate of teen pregnancies in the United States dropped approximately 50%. Much of the credit for that goes to federal and state educational programs that teach teenagers about birth control and making informed choices about sex. The Teen Pregnancy Prevention program, implemented in 2010 during the Obama Administration, was one of the most effective of these efforts, providing annual grants totaling 200 million dollars to the states to operate and evaluate their public health programs aimed at preventing unwanted teen pregnancies.
These programs are vital because more than 25% of American girls become pregnant by age 20. Many of these pregnancies are neither expected or wanted. The drastic negative economic and social implications of that fact--to women and American society— should be obvious. The real beneficiaries of programs like the TPP are women, because it is women (in this country at least) who have been burdened socially with the major responsibility for contraception. It is women’s lives and futures that are impacted the most by an unwanted pregnancy.
In August of last year the Trump Administration, through its Department of Health and Human Services, effectively ended funding for the TPP program two years before it was to be re-authorized. In its place, the Administration specified that any recipients of grants from the TPP must follow one of two “abstinence-based” agendas, de-emphasizing birth control as a method of preventing pregnancy.
Now women are essentially being told by the Trump Administration (through these programs) that if they want to avoid becoming pregnant they should simply not have sex (the fact that Trump may be he most sexually licentious U.S. President in U.S. History doesn’t seem to factor into the equation).
The efforts of the Administration to impose sexual control over women are not limited to teenagers. This morning’s New York Times has compiled a litany of Administration’s recent efforts to implement it’s efforts to control adult female sexual behavior:
The administration is promoting a “just say no” approach to adults as well as to teenagers. It’s poised to shift Title X family planning dollars — funds largely intended to help poor adult women around the United States get birth control — toward programs that advocate abstinence outside of marriage, as well as unreliable forms of birth control like the rhythm method...[.]
There is virtually no evidence that these “abstinence” initiatives are effective. Not only are they ineffective at controlling teen pregnancy, they are even ineffective at promoting abstinence. Coupled with the elimination of education about contraception, they are a recipe for an explosion of teen pregnancy as well as a resurgence of sexually transmitted diseases among both teens and adults. They are also rife with disinformation intended to foster a subservient role for women in American society:
A 2004 government report found that many such curriculums undersold the effectiveness of condoms and made unscientific assertions, like a claim that a 43-day-old fetus is a “thinking person.” This kind of propaganda also promotes gender stereotypes. “Women gauge their happiness and judge their success by their relationships,” one curriculum taught students. “Men’s happiness and success hinge on their accomplishments.”
Disinformation is at the center of this agenda. It makes it more difficult for women to acquire the knowledge they need to control if and when they become pregnant — a problem that is exacerbated by the administration’s hostility toward abortion rights. Beyond that, abstinence-only education keeps all people who are subjected to it in the dark about critical aspects of their health, and treats a normal part of life — sexuality, and women’s sexuality in particular — as aberrant and shameful.
Trump’s efforts to deny American women the right to engage in sex out of wedlock has also extended itself into American involvement with the rest of the world, with this Administration’s representatives at the UN single-mindedly obsessed with promoting abstinence as a condition for recipients of American aid:
Members of HHS, USAID, and the US Mission to the UN asked for references to contraception, abortion, and comprehensive sex education to be struck from a document on international gender equality, calling the US a "pro-life nation."
Of course the issue of abortion dominates Administration policy, from its efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, to its vocal support for anti-choice organizations and the implementation of novel anti-choice legislation, and its rabidly anti-choice judicial appointments. The clear goal of this Administration more than any before it is to control not only female reproduction but a women’s right to have sex out of marriage at all.
There’s only one explanation for this assault on women’s freedom—the Administration’s reliance on its (white) Evangelical “Christian” voter base. It doesn’t matter that the anti-women religious extremism that dominates the thinking of these closed-minded fanatics is at odds with the beliefs and values—religious or otherwise-- of the great majority of Americans. It doesn’t matter that white Evangelicals themselves are a minority of the American electorate. In order to placate this vital Republican-voting demographic, Trump, and in particular his supposedly “devout” Vice President Pence, have injected this Evangelical brand of extremist, religious dogma into our national policies with a vengeance. As in most of the world’s religions, Americans’ peculiar strain of Evangelical religion presupposes that women (and correspondingly, women’s needs) are subservient to those of men. That is the way the “religion” germinated and perpetuated itself in this country. And moreso than any Administration in history this one is bending over backwards to accommodate these people.
Trump’s high placement of far-right conservatives such as Tom Price and Valerie Huber, who once ran an organization dedicated to abstinence-only education and now is in charge of Title X implementation at the HHS, is the clearest evidence of his desire to accommodate Christian extremists in formulating a national policy with far-reaching, destructive social impacts on the majority of Americans who don’t ascribe to these beliefs.
Nor does it matter that Trump himself is proving himself as morally depraved as any “whoremonger” or adulterer condemned by St. Paul in The Acts, or any prophet of the Old Testament, for that matter. For these Evangelicals, Trump is a tool, a means to an end, with the end being the imposition of a religious-centered pro-Christian government in this country. A theocratic government, with the ultimate goal of bringing the rest of Americans into line with their “teachings.”
The control of women’s behavior is only the first step towards that goal.