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What will happen to women’s rights now that Donald Trump is President?

Donald Trump has surrounded himself with men who are anti-abortion and promised to defund Planned Parenthood. The global gag rule is just the beginning.

On the website of Planned Parenthood, the American organisation which is the world’s biggest provider of reproductive healthcare services, there is a page of women’s stories. Shawanna, now a mother of one and healthcare worker, had an abortion aged 17. Her mother had died of ovarian cancer, and she was raising her little sister when she found out she was pregnant. “It was a difficult decision,” Shawanna says. “But I already was a parent to my sister, and I couldn’t financially or emotionally provide for another child. I also wanted to finish high school.”

Another woman, Rebekah, was working two jobs in community college and unable to afford health insurance when she saw a flyer for Planned Parenthood: “Because I was able to get preventative care, including birth control, I was able to fulfil my life goals: to graduate college and become a mother.”

Now activists are worried that services like those offered by Planned Parenthood – which, aside from contraception and abortion, also provides things like cervical smear tests and STD screening – are at risk.

One of Donald Trump’s first acts on becoming president was to reinstate the “global gag rule”: a law that defunds non-government organisations if they so much as mention abortion as an option to pregnant women. This rule, formally called the Mexico City Policy, is something of a political football: it was revoked when Bill Clinton came into office, enforced under George Bush and revoked by Barack Obama before being signed again by Trump.

So why are activists so worried? Firstly, because Trump has decided on a stronger iteration of the global gag rule that not only demands NGOs disclaim their involvement with any abortion services if they want to receive funding for reproductive health, as it did previously, but requires them to do so to receive health funding at all. Suzanne Ehlers, who runs the reproductive health organisation PAI, calls this the gag rule “on steroids".

Under Trump, the rule will impact an estimated $9.5bn in foreign aid funding, as opposed to $600m, and will mean organisations “working on AIDS, malaria, or maternal and child health will have to make sure that none of their programs involves so much as an abortion referral”. (Unsafe abortions, incidentally, are one of the leading causes of maternal mortality worldwide, with the World Health Organisation estimating that a woman dies of an unsafe abortion every eight seconds.)

If the president is willing to defund AIDS outreach services on the basis that the NGOs who administer them might mention abortion, activists reason, it seems unlikely that Trump will soften his campaign-trail rhetoric in relation to women’s reproductive health. And that rhetoric is scary: at one point, the president insisted he would seek punishment for women who access abortion illegally, akin to the current legal situation on the island of Ireland – though he later rowed back on this comment, saying that the doctor would be prosecuted instead as the “woman is a victim in this case”.

Trump has also said that he will defund Planned Parenthood, even though he acknowledges that only a small proportion of their services relate to abortion. To quote the president himself:

I'm totally against abortion, having to do with Planned Parenthood. But millions and millions of women  cervical cancer, breast cancer  are helped by Planned Parenthood. So you can say whatever you want, but they have millions of women going through Planned Parenthood that are helped greatly. And I wouldn't fund it. I would defund it because of the abortion factor, which they say is 3 per cent. I don't know what percentage it is. They say it's 3 per cent. But I would defund it, because I'm pro-life. But millions of women are helped by Planned Parenthood.

Will he go through with it? One thing we know for sure is that he has already surrounded himself with men who are hardline on both abortion and contraception access. Mike Pence, the vice-president, signed legislation as governor of Indiana which would have banned abortion even in cases of “genetic abnormality” and held doctors “legally liable if they had knowingly performed such procedures”. (The law, which also required that fetal tissue from terminations be buried or cremated, was blocked by a Supreme Court judge before it came into effect.)

His cuts to Planned Parenthood in Indiana led to the closure of an HIV clinic, which was followed by an HIV outbreak. During the presidential campaign, he vowed to consign Roe v Wade (the ruling that allows American women to have abortions“to the ash heap of history where it belongs”. It was also during Pence’s term as governor that Indiana resident Purvi Patel was sentenced to 20 years in jail for “feticide” after allegedly terminating her own pregnancy, a conviction overturned after she had served 18 months. Tom Price, who Trump has chosen to lead the Department of Health, supports a nationwide ban on abortion after 20 weeks (most states currently opt for a 24-26 week limit; the limit in Britain is 24 weeks in most circumstances).

Appointments still to come could prove even more dangerous for women’s rights. As Rebecca Traister points out in New York Magazine, Trump has promised to nominate “pro-life justices” to the Supreme Court. “With one Supreme Court seat maddeningly open and three sitting justices over the age of 78,” Traister writes, “this . . . promise could have a long-lasting impact: It would take only two appointments to get to a Court that would likely overturn Roe v Wade.”

It is not clear whether these men believe women are so simple that they’ll simply stop seeking abortions if they’re not easy to get, or whether they believe that making abortions difficult, costly and potentially unsafe is an apt punishment for women who have sex for any purpose other than procreation.

It is not unreasonable to suspect the latter. We know, after all, what brings down the abortion rate – sex education and easy access to contraception, particularly long-term options such as IUDs. In areas where Planned Parenthood clinics have been shut down, the rate of STDs and unplanned pregnancies has risen. But give these people an inch, and they’ll take away your birth control: the American Care Act, popularly known as “Obamacare” (now also in the Trump-Pence crosshairs), currently provides roughly $1.4bn of mandatory contraceptive funding to American women each year.

We know, too, that making abortions illegal does not stop women seeking abortions, but leads only to more women dying as a result of them – and that women who are already mothers have more abortions than any other group, often citing the wellbeing of existing children as a motivation. Presented with this fact, the rhetoric from the American right concerning the sanctity of motherhood quickly reveals itself to be empty: grounded in a loathing of, not reverence for, women. The crisis in women’s health that activists can already see on the horizon is as intentional as it is dangerous.

Women, however, are not taking the president’s anti-choice sentiments lying down. The Centre for Reproductive Rights, which describes itself as a non-profit legal advocacy organisation that defends the reproductive rights of women worldwide, has already filed lawsuits challenging restrictions in Alaska, Missouri and North Carolina, with more challenges – based on a recent Supreme Court decision regarding abortion access in Texas, Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedtlikely during the president’s term.

Following the Women’s March on DC, further actions are also scheduled explicitly in support of Planned Parenthood, and local fundraisers have been organised across the country. One Chicago brewer even released a special beer, called Trumpty Dumpty, to raise funds.

Reading the testimonies on the Planned Parenthood website, one thing comes up again and again: action. From Shireen, who became a peer sex educator at school, to Carly, who organised an abortion speak-out at her college, each woman has something to say about helping other women – whether it be distributing condoms or becoming a healthcare provider themselves.

Add to that the estimated three times as many people that crowd scientists believe turned out for the Women’s March as compared to Trump’s inauguration – nobody tell Sean Spicer – and one begins to suspect that the resistance to the new president’s draconian reproductive policies will be, as he might put it, “yuge”. It’s time to worry. But it’s not yet time to give up hope.

You can donate to Planned Parenthood here.

Women in Northern Ireland can be punished for accessing an illegal abortion – just as Trump originally proposed. Donate to the Abortion Support Network, which helps women from the island of Ireland access safe abortions, here.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland

Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: Getty
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Lexit: the EU is a neoliberal project, so let's do something different when we leave it

Brexit affords the British left a historic opportunity for a decisive break with EU market liberalism.

The Brexit vote to leave the European Union has many parents, but "Lexit" – the argument for exiting the EU from the left – remains an orphan. A third of Labour voters backed Leave, but they did so without any significant leadership from the Labour Party. Left-of-centre votes proved decisive in determining the outcome of a referendum that was otherwise framed, shaped, and presented almost exclusively by the right. A proper left discussion of the issues has been, if not entirely absent, then decidedly marginal – part of a more general malaise when it comes to developing left alternatives that has begun to be corrected only recently, under Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.

Ceding Brexit to the right was very nearly the most serious strategic mistake by the British left since the ‘70s. Under successive leaders Labour became so incorporated into the ideology of Europeanism as to preclude any clear-eyed critical analysis of the actually existing EU as a regulatory and trade regime pursuing deep economic integration. The same political journey that carried Labour into its technocratic embrace of the EU also resulted in the abandonment of any form of distinctive economics separate from the orthodoxies of market liberalism.

It’s been astounding to witness so many left-wingers, in meltdown over Brexit, resort to parroting liberal economics. Thus we hear that factor mobility isn’t about labour arbitrage, that public services aren’t under pressure, that we must prioritise foreign direct investment and trade. It’s little wonder Labour became so detached from its base. Such claims do not match the lived experience of ordinary people in regions of the country devastated by deindustrialisation and disinvestment.

Nor should concerns about wage stagnation and bargaining power be met with finger-wagging accusations of racism, as if the manner in which capitalism pits workers against each other hasn’t long been understood. Instead, we should be offering real solutions – including a willingness to rethink capital mobility and trade. This places us in direct conflict with the constitutionalised neoliberalism of the EU.

Only the political savvy of the leadership has enabled Labour to recover from its disastrous positioning post-referendum. Incredibly, what seemed an unbeatable electoral bloc around Theresa May has been deftly prized apart in the course of an extraordinary General Election campaign. To consolidate the political project they have initiated, Corbyn and McDonnell must now follow through with a truly radical economic programme. The place to look for inspiration is precisely the range of instruments and policy options discouraged or outright forbidden by the EU.

A neoliberal project

The fact that right-wing arguments for Leave predominated during the referendum says far more about today’s left than it does about the European Union. There has been a great deal of myth-making concerning the latter –much of it funded, directly or indirectly, by the EU itself.

From its inception, the EU has been a top-down project driven by political and administrative elites, "a protected sphere", in the judgment of the late Peter Mair, "in which policy-making can evade the constraints imposed by representative democracy". To complain about the EU’s "democratic deficit" is to have misunderstood its purpose. The main thrust of European economic policy has been to extend and deepen the market through liberalisation, privatisation, and flexiblisation, subordinating employment and social protection to goals of low inflation, debt reduction, and increased competitiveness.

Prospects for Keynesian reflationary policies, or even for pan-European economic planning – never great – soon gave way to more Hayekian conceptions. Hayek’s original insight, in The Economic Conditions of Interstate Federalism, was that free movement of capital, goods, and labour – a "single market" – among a federation of nations would severely and necessarily restrict the economic policy space available to individual members. Pro-European socialists, whose aim had been to acquire new supranational options for the regulation of capital, found themselves surrendering the tools they already possessed at home. The national road to socialism, or even to social democracy, was closed.

The direction of travel has been singular and unrelenting. To take one example, workers’ rights – a supposed EU strength – are steadily being eroded, as can be seen in landmark judgments by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the Viking and Laval cases, among others. In both instances, workers attempting to strike in protest at plans to replace workers from one EU country with lower-wage workers from another, were told their right to strike could not infringe upon the "four freedoms" – free movement of capital, labour, goods, and services – established by the treaties.

More broadly, on trade, financial regulation, state aid, government purchasing, public service delivery, and more, any attempt to create a different kind of economy from inside the EU has largely been forestalled by competition policy or single market regulation.

A new political economy

Given that the UK will soon be escaping the EU, what opportunities might this afford? Three policy directions immediately stand out: public ownership, industrial strategy, and procurement. In each case, EU regulation previously stood in the way of promising left strategies. In each case, the political and economic returns from bold departures from neoliberal orthodoxy after Brexit could be substantial.

While not banned outright by EU law, public ownership is severely discouraged and disadvantaged by it. ECJ interpretation of Article 106 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) has steadily eroded public ownership options. "The ECJ", argues law professor Danny Nicol, "appears to have constructed a one-way street in favour of private-sector provision: nationalised services are prima facie suspect and must be analysed for their necessity". Sure enough, the EU has been a significant driver of privatisation, functioning like a ratchet. It’s much easier for a member state to pursue the liberalisation of sectors than to secure their (re)nationalisation. Article 59 (TFEU) specifically allows the European Council and Parliament to liberalise services. Since the ‘80s, there have been single market programmes in energy, transport, postal services, telecommunications, education, and health.

Britain has long been an extreme outlier on privatisation, responsible for 40 per cent of the total assets privatised across the OECD between 1980 and 1996. Today, however, increasing inequality, poverty, environmental degradation and the general sense of an impoverished public sphere are leading to growing calls for renewed public ownership (albeit in new, more democratic forms). Soon to be free of EU constraints, it’s time to explore an expanded and fundamentally reimagined UK public sector.

Next, Britain’s industrial production has been virtually flat since the late 1990s, with a yawning trade deficit in industrial goods. Any serious industrial strategy to address the structural weaknesses of UK manufacturing will rely on "state aid" – the nurturing of a next generation of companies through grants, interest and tax relief, guarantees, government holdings, and the provision of goods and services on a preferential basis.

Article 107 TFEU allows for state aid only if it is compatible with the internal market and does not distort competition, laying out the specific circumstances in which it could be lawful. Whether or not state aid meets these criteria is at the sole discretion of the Commission – and courts in member states are obligated to enforce the commission’s decisions. The Commission has adopted an approach that considers, among other things, the existence of market failure, the effectiveness of other options, and the impact on the market and competition, thereby allowing state aid only in exceptional circumstances.

For many parts of the UK, the challenges of industrial decline remain starkly present – entire communities are thrown on the scrap heap, with all the associated capital and carbon costs and wasted lives. It’s high time the left returned to the possibilities inherent in a proactive industrial strategy. A true community-sustaining industrial strategy would consist of the deliberate direction of capital to sectors, localities, and regions, so as to balance out market trends and prevent communities from falling into decay, while also ensuring the investment in research and development necessary to maintain a highly productive economy. Policy, in this vision, would function to re-deploy infrastructure, production facilities, and workers left unemployed because of a shutdown or increased automation.

In some cases, this might mean assistance to workers or localities to buy up facilities and keep them running under worker or community ownership. In other cases it might involve re-training workers for new skills and re-fitting facilities. A regional approach might help launch new enterprises that would eventually be spun off as worker or local community-owned firms, supporting the development of strong and vibrant network economies, perhaps on the basis of a Green New Deal. All of this will be possible post-Brexit, under a Corbyn government.

Lastly, there is procurement. Under EU law, explicitly linking public procurement to local entities or social needs is difficult. The ECJ has ruled that, even if there is no specific legislation, procurement activity must "comply with the fundamental rules of the Treaty, in particular the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of nationality". This means that all procurement contracts must be open to all bidders across the EU, and public authorities must advertise contracts widely in other EU countries. In 2004, the European Parliament and Council issued two directives establishing the criteria governing such contracts: "lowest price only" and "most economically advantageous tender".

Unleashed from EU constraints, there are major opportunities for targeting large-scale public procurement to rebuild and transform communities, cities, and regions. The vision behind the celebrated Preston Model of community wealth building – inspired by the work of our own organisation, The Democracy Collaborative, in Cleveland, Ohio – leverages public procurement and the stabilising power of place-based anchor institutions (governments, hospitals, universities) to support rooted, participatory, democratic local economies built around multipliers. In this way, public funds can be made to do "double duty"; anchoring jobs and building community wealth, reversing long-term economic decline. This suggests the viability of a very different economic approach and potential for a winning political coalition, building support for a new socialist economics from the ground up.

With the prospect of a Corbyn government now tantalisingly close, it’s imperative that Labour reconciles its policy objectives in the Brexit negotiations with its plans for a radical economic transformation and redistribution of power and wealth. Only by pursuing strategies capable of re-establishing broad control over the national economy can Labour hope to manage the coming period of pain and dislocation following Brexit. Based on new institutions and approaches and the centrality of ownership and control, democracy, and participation, we should be busy assembling the tools and strategies that will allow departure from the EU to open up new political-economic horizons in Britain and bring about the profound transformation the country so desperately wants and needs.

Joe Guinan is executive director of the Next System Project at The Democracy Collaborative. Thomas M. Hanna is research director at The Democracy Collaborative.

This is an extract from a longer essay which appears in the inaugural edition of the IPPR Progressive Review.