Demonstrators at the Women's March on the Mall in January. (Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post)

It has been a year of reckoning for women in the United States. It began with hundreds of thousands of women across the country and the rest of the world marching for women's rightsIt would close out with powerful men like Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein accused of serial sexual harassment and abuse of women — and finally facing consequences for their behavior. 

But what has changed for women in 2017, particularly in government and policy? The Trump administration has taken actions on issues that directly affect women, including funding for sex education, how colleges handle sexual assault cases and how some workers can obtain birth control. On the political side, women in the Senate became key players in dealing with sexual harassment in Congress, while the November election showed early signs of a new wave of women running for office.

“Under President Trump, women, working families and children have seen opportunities expand,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

We’ve catalogued and assessed some of the most significant changes below.

What has changed for women and family planning

As one of his first acts as president, Trump reinstated the Mexico City policy, otherwise known as the “global gag rule.” The rule, which has been implemented by every Republican president since Ronald Reagan and revoked by every Democratic one since Bill Clinton, bars foreign nongovernmental organizations that perform or discuss abortion from receiving U.S. funding. 

“This is a pro-life administration and pro-life president,” Sanders said. “This an issue he campaigned on, advocated for, and was proud to take action on as one of his first acts.”

However, certain NGOs and agencies that focus on diseases such as the Zika virus and AIDS could lose funding because they also offer family planning services that mention abortion.

The Trump administration notified several grant recipients in the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program that their funding would end in June 2018, instead of in 2020, even though their research had not concluded. The TPPP provided grants to organizations that would implement “evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs.”

The Department of Healthy and Human Services under the current administration argues that the TPP Programs that lost funding were ineffective at preventing teen pregnancybut the programs had not yet finished their research, and supporters in Congress argued the programs contributed to the government's understanding of how to prevent teen pregnancy. The teen birthrate in the United States has fallen steadily over the past several years, though the country still trails behind other Western nations in making progress.

“Early action from the Trump administration has signaled renewed support for abstinence-only programming,” according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In October, the Trump administration allowed employers to refuse to cover birth control on their insurance plans on religious grounds, a change long sought by conservative groups. The decision sparked immediate legal challenges, and so far it has been blocked in two federal courts. The requirement was a key component of the Affordable Care Act.

Changes in education rules

In September, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos revoked Obama-era requirements for how universities are required to deal with sexual assault, arguing that they went too far in dictating how campuses should handle these incidents.

Under President Barack Obama, colleges were required to use a lower standard of proof, “preponderance of evidence,” when investigating a claim. With DeVos’s changes, colleges will have to use “clear and convincing evidence,” a higher standard of proof that an assault was committed. Supporters of DeVos's change said that it makes the process more fair for all students and parties involved in these disputes, while critics argued it would make victims of assault less likely to report.

Health care and taxes

Though the Affordable Care Act was not repealed outright, and sign-ups continue apace, the program has been cut back through other means. The Republicans' new tax bill essentially axed the individual mandate, which was seen as the backbone of the ACA.

The Trump administration sees these changes as positive for women and families. “We believe that more freedom for people to choose more diverse plans with less mandates imposed upon them are good for all consumers, women and men alike,” said White House spokesman Raj Shah.

Some experts say that such dramatic changes to health-care policy could have an adverse effect on women. “The health-care market is destabilized. I think we can reasonably expect some women to lose coverage, we just don't know how many,” said Laurie Sobel, associate director of Women’s Health Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. The uninsured rate among women ages 19 to 64 has dropped from 17 percent in 2013 to 11 percent in 2016, according to KFF. In 2016, about 91 percent of women under 65 had some form of coverage, up from 85 percent in 2009, according to census data.


The precarious future of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, could also affect women and families. The program provides coverage for millions of children whose families make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but can’t afford or access private insurance. The program ran out of funding on Sept. 30, 2017, and has yet to be reauthorized. Congress just injected the program with emergency funds that will last until March, but its future is still in limbo despite bipartisan support and the backing of the Trump administration.

The Republican tax overhaul, which Trump signed into law just before Christmas, includes an expanded child tax credit thanks to a late push from Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah). The Trump administration pointed to the expansion of the child tax credit as a boon for women and families.

“The President is standing with working families by doubling the child tax credit and being the first to propose federal paid family leave in his budget,” Sanders said.

Republicans said the tax plan will help the middle class, but nonpartisan studies suggest it will favor wealthier individuals.

Women in Congress

After starting in Hollywood and working its way through the media, the #MeToo movement came for Congress. Several members of Congress resigned, including Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), after multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) announced that he would not seek reelection next year after allegations surfaced.

After organizations like The Washington Post revealed the secretive, byzantine system for reporting sexual harassment on Capitol Hill, female lawmakers led the charge to fix the process. The Me Too Congress Act was introduced in November, and it aims at changing the system by which Congress deals with sexual misconduct. The Senate also mandated that all elected officials and their aides undergo anti-sexual harassment training. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has said that the House would mandate similar training.

Female representation in national politics

Early indications from such organizations as Emily's List and She Should Run show record interest from women in running for office.

In Virginia's 2017 elections, 11 new women were elected to the House of Delegates, several of them ousting Republican incumbents. The number of women in Virginia's House rises from 17 to 27, and new members will include the chamber's first Asian American woman and Latinas.

On the executive side, President Trump’s first Cabinet has the lowest percentage of women and nonwhite men of any since President Ronald Reagan’s. Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, had seven women in his first Cabinet. In comparison, Trump has four, and only two are in the “inner cabinet.” However, several women hold other powerful positions within the White House. Sanders is the first woman to serve as White House press secretary since Dana Perino in 2009, and is only the third woman to ever hold the position. Other women, including Kellyanne Conway and Ivanka Trump, hold prominent administration roles. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has gained particular prominence this year.

Trans women see changes in politics and policy realms

Election Day was a landmark day for transgender women in government. Andrea Jenkins became the first openly transgender black woman elected to public office in the nation when she won a seat on the Minneapolis City Council. That same night, Danica Roem was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, running against a Republican incumbent who had, in the past, referred to himself as the state's “chief homophobe” and introduced a failed “bathroom bill.”

It was a bad year for “bathroom bills,” legislation that requires individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds to their sex assigned at birth and is often seen as discriminatory by the LGBT community. North Carolina was forced to repeal such a law after national backlash. A Texas bathroom bill failed to pass during this year's special session after a similar outcry.

Looking ahead

All of these shifts indicate that 2018 will be another year of change for women in the political realm. 

“What we saw when it came to women running this year is a little window into what we might see come next year, both in state legislative races and also in congressional races,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

“People have been galvanized, particularly women,” said Niambi Carter, assistant professor of political science at Howard University.

However, we'll have to wait to see how much that interest and energy translates into actual female candidates. “The number of people expressing interest is unquestionably through the roof,” said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University. “It's a lot different to actually throw your hat into the ring and run for Congress.”

Dan Keating contributed to this report.

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