Mike Pence poses biggest threat to women in a generation, say campaigners

The Indiana Governor has a murky past of fighting gender equality, and now he has almost free rein to see his wishes come true

Rachael Revesz
New York
Tuesday 17 January 2017 15:29 GMT
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Mr Pence whispers into Mr Trump's ear shortly before he goes on stage
Mr Pence whispers into Mr Trump's ear shortly before he goes on stage (Getty)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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“For me, my faith informs my life. I try and spend a little time on my knees every day. But it all for me begins with cherishing the dignity, the worth, the value of every human life.”

These are the words of Indiana Governor-turned-Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who outlined during a debate last year why he did not agree with a woman’s right to choose.

He is often described as softly spoken, with an almost pained, apologetic facial expression when he talks. Yet the Governor who has been propelled to the second highest spot in government is not so soft or apologetic when it comes to eroding constitutional protections for women.

Jennifer Dalven, director of the reproductive freedom project at the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Independent that Mr Pence was “extraordinarily hostile” to women’s rights.

“It’s very nervous-making to have him in the position of Vice President,” she said. “But I’m hopeful. We are seeing a groundswell of opposition.”

With Mr Pence in government, an advocate of state law rather than federal law, abortion rules in each state could be gradually dismantled over the next decade.

The hangover of 2016 had hardly passed in the Kentucky court room, for example, before the gavel came down on a new, offensive attack on women’s reproductive rights.

Mike Pence is told ‘We are the diverse Americans anxious you will not protect us’

So-called HB2 will force doctors to describe an ultrasound to a woman seeking an abortion. Even if she objects, the doctor must describe the shape of the foetus to her in detail. The woman can cover her ears and eyes, but the law states that the doctor must continue, even if he or she believes such a description would cause more harm than good.

The bill, said Ms Dalven, was designed to “shame and stigmatise women”.

She added that states have been “very emboldened” to act against women’s rights in recent years, especially since the election of Mr Trump.

Across the country, there have been 238 restrictive actions taken by states since 2010, and 50 in the past 12 months alone, according to the ACLU.

Clinics across the US are being required to obtain stringent and strict and nonsensical requirements, such as for all doctors to have hospital admitting privileges within 20 miles, or for the clinic to be set up to the same standards as an operating theatre – even if all the woman needs is a pill and a cup of water. Women who work, caring responsibilities and low incomes are being forced to travel for longer distances, back and forth, to obtain a procedure.

There are now 15 states that ban abortions on “pain-capable” unborn children, as described by pro-life groups. As abortion laws crumble, so is there a degradation of paid family leave, affordable childcare and general healthcare, say activists.

Mr Pence will not be unfamiliar with the raft of legislation and attacks against Roe v Wade, the 1973 law that guarantees women the right to an abortion. In his own home state of Indiana, he has spent a significant proportion of his career in fighting against a woman’s right to choose.

When these laws restrict women’s rights, the results can be catastrophic. The most extreme scenario can be credited to Mr Pence.

Ohio legislator who wants to ban abortion has no idea why women would want to have abortions

Purvi Patel of Indiana was sentenced to 20 years in prison for feticide and child neglect. She allegedly induced her own abortion as she did not want to admit having sex outside of marriage to her conservative family. She turned up to her local emergency department, bleeding heavily, and told staff she had placed the foetus in a dumpster outside the hospital.

Her charges were overturned by the court of appeals in September. If the charges had not been overturned, she would have been the first woman to be charged, convicted and sentenced for feticide.

Amy Friedrich-Karnik, senior federal policy adviser at the Centre for Reproductive Rights, told The Independent that Mr Pence has “an awful record” regarding women’s access to healthcare.

“Pence and his government represent potentially the greatest threat to women's reproductive rights in a generation,” she said.

Mr Trump is close to picking a conservative Supreme Court nominee who would tip the court towards pro-life policies, and could ultimately threaten Roe v Wade.

“Overall there is a concerning trend around criminalising pregnant women and those women who want safe and legal abortions,” said Ms Friedrich-Karnik.

“I think that it was highlighted well in debates when Trump was a candidate and he said he would punish women. The anti-choice movement doesn’t talk about punishing women – they don’t think it’s wise – but they do still go after women and punish them.”

Most of the cabinet surrounding Mr Trump and Mr Pence is of the same mindset.

Incoming attorney general Jeff Sessions said he still believed that Roe v Wade was a “colossal mistake” and the “most erroneous decision” from the Supreme Court.

Donald Trump's controversial cabinet

Tom Price, the soon-to-be secretary of human health and services, opposes the Affordable Care Act and wants to retract the contraceptive coverage requirement, which has allowed millions of women to no copay access to contraception.

The new Department of Labour Secretary, Andy Puzder, has history in the 1980s of defending anti-abortion protesters and pushing anti-abortion legislation.

Although a key battle was won in Texas last summer – the Supreme Court struck down a bill that was trying to close down clinics – activists and campaigners are uncertain of the future.

The ACLU, in partnership with Planned Parenthood, filed its first wave of three lawsuits in three states last November, and is gearing up to file more across the US.

“It’s hard to say where we will end up in four years’ time,” said Ms Friedrich-Karnik.

“I am alarmed and scared by all the threats we face. There will be rights to reproductive access that will be rolled back, whether it’s abortion or contraception, at the state and federal level. We will have some losses.

“But I am encouraged by the reaction since the election. I have seen so many people come forward who never have been involved before, so while I am scared about we will face, I’m also excited to see a movement which will rise up and fight.

“And the fight is far from over.”

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