The XX Factor

Trump’s First Step Toward Impeding Birth Control Access Is Making Tom Price HHS Secretary

Rep. Tom Price, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services, believes zygotes should have constitutional rights.

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Donald Trump and Mike Pence’s inevitable attack on women’s health care got a little more real Tuesday morning when the president-elect tapped Rep. Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services.

The vocal Obamacare opponent, a Republican who’s represented a Georgia district since 2005, has established himself as a hardline anti-abortion, anti-contraception extremist during his time in Congress. During his first term, Price co-sponsored a piece of legislation called the “Right to Life Act,” which would have banned abortion in nearly every circumstance, potentially prohibited most types of contraception and in vitro fertilization, and stymied stem cell research.

The bill proposed vesting every zygote (“preborn human person,” the bill says) with all the rights of the Constitution from the moment of fertilization. This kind of “personhood” bill would mark the first step toward a draconian society that punishes women who terminate their pregnancies as if they were murderers, like the one an anti-abortion activist group is trying to establish in Florida. These bills provide no exceptions for rape, incest, or threat to a pregnant woman’s life, and would put control over women’s bodies—including, perhaps, what she ate, drank, or did while pregnant—in the hands of the state.

Price has also voted several times to defund Planned Parenthood, a measure multiple federal courts have found unconstitutional at the state level under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. He voted to ban abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation nationwide, to prohibit funding for doctors-in-training to learn about abortion care, and to fund the Select Investigative Panel that’s spent millions of dollars uncovering exactly zero instances of wrongdoing on the part of abortion providers.

The Department of Health and Human Services can’t ban abortion or contraception, but as secretary, Price can do a lot of damage to women’s reproductive rights all on his own. He could reverse the Affordable Care Act’s rule that prevents insurers from charging women more money than men for the same health plans. The ACA also required insurers to include maternity care in their plans on the individual market, a pre-Obamacare rarity. If Price succeeds in his quest to take down the ACA, women who purchase plans on the individual market will be unlikely to get maternity benefits.

Perhaps most importantly, Price is enraged by the ACA’s requirement that insurers completely cover contraception and could axe that rule right away by excluding birth control from the category of preventive health care. In a 2012 interview with ThinkProgress, Price denied that any women in the country had trouble affording birth control without insurance coverage. “Bring me one woman who has been left behind. Bring me one,” he said. “There’s not one.” He characterized the contraception requirement, which benefits 55 million women and saved women $1.4 billion in 2013 alone, as “a trampling of religious freedom and religious liberty in this country.”

As the incoming head of a federal health agency, Price might want to review some facts about the drugs and devices he’s preparing to make less available to low- and middle-income women. Accessible, reliable contraception is the best way to reduce rates of abortion—innumerable studies have backed up simple common sense on this. If Price doesn’t want women to terminate unplanned pregnancies, he should make it easier, not harder, to prevent unplanned pregnancies in the first place. Instead, it seems, the person Trump is entrusting with leading the federal agenda on health care would rather go after constitutionally protected medical procedures with symbolic waste-of-time bills that are doomed to fail.