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“John Stuart Mill Wouldn’t Let This Happen ”
Nineteenth century British economist John Stuart Mill is primarily recognized in modern economics and philosophy for two reasons. He polished the Utilitarian principles established by Jeremy Bentham and he reemphasized the priority of individual liberty and self-determination against the inroads of the majority in democratic societies (Buchholz, 1990). Yet, one part of Mill’s contribution has been largely overlooked- his appeal for legal and social equality for women in an 1861 volume entitled The Subjection of Women. This piece of work is particularly important and relevant during the current age of President Trump, as the rights of women are again being undermined and eroded. This paper will argue that based on his advocacy for women’s suffrage, were he alive today,F Mill would too champion women’s right to choose.
Since even before his presidency began, efforts by President Trump and his appointees to undermine access to birth control have been relentless. During the beginning of the third presidential debate, Trump came out hard against abortion. He affirmed that, if elected, he would appoint only pro-life justices to the Supreme Court and that Roe v. Wade would be “automatically” overturned. While that is not how the Supreme Court works, Trump made it clear that his agenda would then leave it up for the “states to make a determination” on the issue. During an interview with MSNBC during his presidential campaign, Trump remarked that “there has to be some form of punishment (TPMTV, 2016)” for women who seek abortions. With this rhetoric, it is not surprising that anti-choice activists feel emboldened by Donald Trump’s presidency to attack women’s health and rights. Trump has also appointed a slew of abortion rights opponents to key administration posts. One such example is Scott Lloyd, who as Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement prevented young immigrant women in federal custody from obtaining an abortion (ACLU, 2018). Whatever his personal opinion may be, Trump’s appointees and their actions could put reproductive health care out of reach for millions of women, especially those living in poverty.
During his time in office, Trump has taken steps which restrict women’s right to choose by limiting access to a complete range of family planning options. In January of 2017, Trump reinstituted and expanded the Mexico City Policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule (GGR). This policy prevents foreign organizations receiving U.S. international family planning funds from providing information, referrals, or services for legal abortion or advocating for access to abortion services in their country — even with their own money (Planned Parenthood, 2018). The reinstatement of the GGR was on the list of rules, regulations, and executive orders that the Freedom Caucus, a group of the most conservative House Republicans, sought from the new administration in Trump’s first 100 days in office (Office of Congressman Mark Meadows, 2016). “When Trump came into office, it was assumed he would sign a version of global gag because this is just a Ping-Pong policy, a policy that flips every administration,” one former U.S. government official said. “What was a surprise was the massive GGR expansion. And how quickly it was done” (Center For Health And Gender Equity, 2018). The Trump GGR is more far-reaching and restrictive than any previous iteration of the policy, impacting not only reproductive health programs but every single area of global health care service delivery funded by the U.S. government. Foreign NGOs now face the untenable choice to either stop conducting abortion-related work or lose their U.S. funding. These organizations have been forced to limit essential services ranging from HIV prevention and maternal health to gender-based violence and nutrition. This is only the beginning of the GGR’s far-reaching impacts. Marie Stopes International, an international non-governmental organization providing contraception and safe abortion services in countries around the world, estimates that due to the loss of funding and related discontinuation of services it will see under the Trump GGR, 1.6 million women will lose access to contraceptives from a trained MSI provider annually (MSI, 2017). In addition, from 2017 to 2020, it is anticipated that the cuts to related programs, and the impact on its clients, will result in: 6.5 million unintended pregnancies; 2.2 million abortions; 2.1 million unsafe abortions; 21,700 maternal deaths; $400 million in direct health care costs (World Health Organization, 2008). The ripple effect of policy decisions made President Trump, however motivated, will negatively impact the international community of women seeking support, resources and aid regarding several facets of their health.
A series of policies promoted by the Trump Administration have also had serious impacts on women’s reproductive rights domestically, as well. Two rules released in October 2017 severely undermined the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit by allowing virtually any boss to deny coverage to their employees based on a religious or moral objection. The first rule created an exemption based on religious beliefs and the second created an exemption based on moral beliefs. In tandem, the Department of Justice issued guidance to federal agencies encouraging a dangerously broad interpretation of religious freedom laws that threaten to open the door to discrimination against LGBT people, women, and religious minorities (Sessions, 2017). This creates immense loopholes for employers to deny women birth control coverage, a benefit that is otherwise guaranteed by law. The rules undermine the Affordable Care Act’s guarantee of coverage for birth control without a copay. The birth control benefit had allowed women to choose any Food and Drug Administration-approved birth control method free of cost. Since taking effect in 2012, it is estimated that women saved more than $1 billion on birth control pills alone from the ACA in 2013. This has given women more power to make decisions about their lives, their families, and their futures.
What would Mill think of these proceedings? First let us dissect the issue at hand. The debate over women’s control over their reproductive choices is made up of two parts. The first being women’s rights to equal treatment. The second being government’s involvement in the choices of its citizens. Mill wrote extensively on the subject of women’s equality. He lived during a time when women were subordinate to men by law and custom. They were expected to marry, rear children, and devote themselves to their families. In most cases they could not pursue a formal education, own property or amass wealth, vote, serve on juries, practice a profession, or seek a divorce, even from an abusive husband. Mill’s thinking on women’s rights was influenced by his wife, Harriet Taylor Mill (Buchholz, 1990). In 1869 Mill published his famous essay “The Subjection of Women“, in favor of equality of the sexes. Mill’s arguments for women’s equality mirrors his Utilitarian roots. The subservience of women, he argues, is not only “wrong in itself” but “one of the chief hindrances to human improvement” (Mill, 1869). By refuting women the same chances as men, he says, society not only impedes the development of roughly half the population but denies itself the benefit of their talents (Mill, 1869). Mill argued that there is no reason except historical habit, for women to be treated as less than in society. The fact that “men are typically superior to women in physical strength leads to the presumption that men are superior to women in all areas, despite the fact that there is no proof to support the claim (Mill, 1869).”
While his arguments were targeted at winning equal voting rights for women, his words can be applied to a wider range of topics in which women are not treated equal to men. Including women’s reproductive rights. Mill argues that the progress of society requires that all people, men and women, not be imprisoned in the “fixed social position” in which they are born but instead be given opportunities to develop their talents and to pursue their desires as long as they pose no threat to the rights of others (Mill, 1869). Ultimately, society loses if women are forced to birth and raise babies that they do not want because the resources to prevent or terminate a pregnancy are banned by the state. When women are able to plan their pregnancies, they live longer, they have smaller families, and they’re better able to participate in the workforce. In fact, women who have access to contraception typically make 40% more than those without access — and that economic success is good for the whole society (Schultz, 2009). The consequences of banning certain choices available to women is that they taken out of the workforce and with them goes production, service or management resources. , are burdened with the economic weight of raising a child.
To counter doubts related to the capability of women to match the achievements of men, Mill advocate that the only way to measure the potential of women is to free them from domestic bondage, give them the same opportunities as men, and observe the results (Mill, 1869). Can women be free if they are denied the right to make independent choices based on resources made available to them about their bodies and their futures? Obamacare lifted an enormous financial burden that women alone had to bear. Before the ACA, 85 percent of health insurance plans at large companies offered contraceptive coverage, but most required at least a co-payment (Laurie Sobel, 2016). Individual women paid about $250 a year.
While access to contraception is clearly about women’s health, it also profoundly affects the economy. The easier it is for women to obtain birth control, the more able they are to gain education and employment. That has been enormously important for the economy. The opposite, however, can be just as true. Mr. Trump has promised economic growth at rates we haven’t seen in decades. His actions on contraception are at odds with that.
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