As America – and the world – braces itself for a Trump presidency, one issue in particular has been playing heavily on womens’ minds: will he follow through with his threat to make abortion illegal? Here, US-based writer Claire Dederer talks to women across the country about their fears for the next four years, and issues a rallying call for us all to take a stand for what we believe in.
Amanda Kelly has decided to stockpile Plan B. Kelly is the mother of a college-age daughter – in other words, she’s a woman who has the well-being of not one but two uteruses on her mind. She’s planning to lay in a supply of the medication commonly known as the “morning after pill” in light of the ascendancy of Donald Trump.
That’s how bad things look these days: the women of America are saving up medicine because we’re worried that in the coming four years we won’t be able to receive basic healthcare. In other words, we are totally effing terrified.
To be fair, not all women are terrified. Some conservative women are presumably giddy as they piously consider the lives of all the fetuses that will be saved in the coming era of criminalised abortion.
We’re worried that in the coming four years we won’t be able to receive basic healthcare
But for the rest of us, who are more concerned with the lives of women already born – well, things are looking desperate in the wake of the election. (Note how I can’t bring myself to call it “the Trump administration”. I still have to say “the wake of the election”. It’s possible I’ll keep doing that for the next four years.)
We have a president-elect who, in a televised debate, characterised late-term abortion this way: “You can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month, on the final day.” His vice president Mike Pence has said of the new administration, “We’ll see Roe v. Wade [the 1973 ruling that made abortions legal in the US] consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs."
Women here believe him. Emily Gray Tedrowe, a novelist in Chicago, says, “I think what brought the nightmare of this election home to me more than anything was the fact that my oldest daughter got her first period less than a week after Trump was ‘elected’.
“As I go about teaching her how to use pads, and reassuring her about cramps, I'm overcome that my daughter is entering this world of being a reproductive woman just as this utterly repressive regime is going to aim its strength at locking down her rights to health and safety.”
Read more: Why I had an abortion at 35
Says Jamie Katz, a Seattle therapist, “Since the catastrophe happened, I have had a deep, heavy, depressed feeling in my chest. There is a pall over everything and a sense of impending doom.” This national doominess is perhaps evidenced by the fact that The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel about the control of women’s bodies, originally published over 30 years ago – has climbed to #987 on the Amazon list of top sellers across all genres.
This utterly repressive regime is going to aim its strength at locking down my daughter’s rights to health and safety
Those of us not riven with anxiety are outright furious. Kristi Coulter, a principal writer at Amazon and an essayist, railed when I asked her how she was feeling about our newly imperiled abortion and reproductive rights: “Am I the one who decides how my body is used? Or does the US government decide for me? In the past, these questions filled me with fear. Now – maybe because I’m older and more powerful, or maybe because Donald Trump has proven to be so supremely disrespectful of women and their bodies in general – it’s not fear I’m feeling so much as a white-hot, focused rage.
“I’m ready to throw down once and for all with anyone who thinks women exist for the pleasure or convenience of men. I’m ready to finish this fight.”
I confess that I myself feel ready to scrap. When I’m not having nightmares or crying, I’m spoiling for a brawl. I’m the not-yet-menopausal mom of a teenage daughter, so like Amanda Kelly I have two people’s reproductive health to consider.
Of course I want to take sensible personal precautions on behalf of myself and my daughter, and may yet find myself stocking up on Plan B. But I also want to take to the streets. I feel a mama bear rage on behalf of all the young women out there who might well find themselves with shrinking options in the coming years – a rage stoked by the fact that I fought this fight once before, when I myself was young. After all, the pro-choice movement shaped the feminist politics of the 1980s and 90s.
I feel a mama bear rage on behalf of all the young women out there who might well find themselves with shrinking options in the coming years
I suspect a return to this fighting spirit may be the way forward for us in the coming years. Peggy Orenstein, author of last year’s breakout feminist bestseller Girls and Sex, agrees.
“I actually feel a new sense of purpose in a funny way,” she told me. “I feel the real need to get out and protest. The last time I went to a protest was the first Gulf War. I want to go back out and I want to take my daughter with me.”
Orenstein also says we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking our rights were intact before November. “[The election] woke people up,” she told me. “I wish we hadn’t been woken up this way. But Roe v. Wade was already gutted. There are vast swaths of the country where abortion is unavailable. There’s almost an underground railroad situation in Texas – women virtually being smuggled out of state for abortions.
“In some states there is only one clinic serving the entire state. I don’t think activists have been ignoring the situation. But I think everyday women have been ignoring it. I think we’ve kind of got complacent.”
There are vast swaths of the country where abortion is unavailable… In some states there is only one clinic serving the entire state
The white coastal middle class will almost certainly figure out a way to access abortion and other reproductive health services. It’s the poor and the underprivileged who will bear the brunt – especially as states take on more power in making these decisions, a likely outcome in a Trump administration. Kristina Willson, who works for an abortion provider, says, “If states continue to pass legislation that makes access even more difficult (like gestational limits and having to pay fucking burial fees) women will put themselves in dangerous situations. It will always be available to women with money. But women who do not want to be pregnant will go to great lengths to not be pregnant.”
Willson is on the front lines. She and her office are likely to be the target of the new hostility toward women that we feel rising all around us. “I'm worried that anti-choice zealots could be emboldened to be more aggressive,” she says. “I currently feel safe in the part of town where my clinic is but I do wonder about the next few years.”
So do we all.
Worried and afraid and angry, we ask each other, what are we going to do about it?
Images: iStock/Rex Features