Leana Wen, a physician, is president of the Planned Parent Action Fund and president and chief executive of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
As Georgia, Ohio and Alabama have passed laws drastically restricting access to safe, legal abortion or even banning it outright, women’s health care and rights have jumped to the forefront of our nation’s political conversation once again. As a doctor, the leader of the most trusted reproductive health organization in the country and a mother, I am outraged and disgusted by the rhetoric that devalues women and the attacks that will cost us our freedoms, our health and our lives.
But I also think President Trump and his allies have grossly overreached and made a huge political mistake. This is now a fight we can and will win, if Americans are ready to act on their convictions and make women’s health a priority. And by doing so, we will not only protect women’s health care and rights for this generation and generations to come, but we will also shine a spotlight on Trump’s disastrous overall agenda and cynical political style in a way that will resonate through the 2020 elections.
For those of us who have been watching closely, the events of the past few weeks were expected. Trump promised his base that he would pack the federal courts with extreme judges, and he has done that. Politicians who have been plotting for years to ban abortion in the United States have promised to move outrageous and unconstitutional laws through their states to challenge Roe v. Wade, and they’ve done that, too. And now opponents of Roe, a decision that has been settled law for nearly 50 years, are prepared to take these state laws to a Supreme Court that Trump has swung to the right in anticipation of this very moment.
While this has been happening, Trump has been riling up his campaign crowds with lies and misinformation. Politicians pretending to be medical experts and scientists demonstrate daily, on TV and in legislative chambers, just how little they actually know.
This is the typical playbook from this president. But I don’t think he anticipated that Americans would focus on how extreme these policies are, and how damaging that would be for him politically. When rape survivors stood up to share their stories in Alabama, people across the country watched in horror as 25 male senators ignored them and passed a law that would ban all abortions, without exception for rape or incest, and place providing abortion care in a class of felonies that includes murder and kidnapping.
When thousands of women started sharing their personal stories online with the hashtag #YouKnowMe, the fact that nearly a quarter of American women will have an abortion before the age of 45 was brought to the national consciousness like never before.
When doctors started sharing stories of women they treated in the days before Roe was passed who were hurt or killed by illegal and unsafe abortions, more and more people were reminded that making abortion illegal doesn’t make it go away — it just hurts women.
Now is the moment in the United States when people are paying attention, and we can’t let that moment slip by. Whether or not you think women’s health care is the most important issue, prioritizing it is just good strategy: We can use this moment to make this battle the fight of the next 18 months, and we can win not just the fight for reproductive rights but also the fight against this presidency and everyone who supports its extreme agenda.
Trump has elevated a position that is clearly and strongly opposed by most Americans. According to a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last year, 71 percent of Americans think Roe v. Wade should not be overturned, including 52 percent of Republicans; that’s the highest level of support for Roe in that poll’s history, dating to 2005. Only 23 percent want to see the settled precedent discarded. According to the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Studies, not a single state in the country has majority support for banning abortion in all circumstances.
Trump has been known to reverse course depending on the political winds. But no matter what happens next, he owns this attack on American women. He has packed the courts with the intention of overturning Roe v. Wade, and no amount of fearmongering or distancing from specific laws should distract people from that fact.
This is why we must make women’s health care and rights the line to draw in the sand and defend until November 2020. This is the fight. The stakes are clear. The views of the electorate are solid. And if opponents of Trump’s agenda stay focused and determined, then this can be the battle that brings him, his agenda, his allies and his lies down.