With Trump in office, abortion-rights activists and opponents look to capitalize


By Hannah Rapoport

Stephanie Black turned off the television as the results of the 2016 election became clear.

One by one, each of her eight friends left the party. Black, 21, grabbed her coat and walked out the wooden door, replaying Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric pledging to defund Planned Parenthood in her head.

Miles away, Carly Costello, 20, with her conservative family in Maryland, toasted to the next four years. She left Election Night confident that the Trump administration would be the first in years to promote and stand by her pro-life beliefs.

Both women are students at American University. Yet, both hold very different views on reproductive rights.

“It’s scary knowing that decisions regarding my health are in the hands of someone I don’t trust,” Black said. “I had to do something.”

In response to pro-life officials representing the executive branch this past year, AU students have become more vocal than ever about women’s reproductive rights. Meanwhile, students on the other side of the political spectrum, like Costello, say they have hope for this administration, embracing pro-life ideologies and conservative politics.  

This past semester, Black joined the founding members of the Students to End Abortion Stigma AU, a student run pro-choice organization,to push for university recognition.  

Black works on her laptop covered in pro-choice stickers she’s collected the past three years. Photo by Hannah Rapoport.

As a women’s studies major from Needham, Massachusetts, Black has been involved in reproductive rights advocacy since freshman year, but since the election, she feels more purposeful in the movement.

Through her time involved in women’s reproductive rights advocacy, she has learned to appreciate the value in achieving smaller and more attainable goals.

Black said that she wants to be able to see changes on campus before she graduates.

Black has been working as the communications director of the pro-choice organization this semester to make the emergency contraception pill, Plan B, accessible in the campus market, Eagle’s Nest.  The Health Center is the only place on campus where students can Plan B, she said.

“By the time you’re able to get an appointment though, you’ll already be pregnant,” Black said.

Costello says she is pro-life because of her Catholic faith, and finds comfort in Trump’s promises to defund Planned Parenthood.

The 2018 proposed White House Budget  specifically bars any funding to entities that provide abortions, including Planned Parenthood.

If abortion access was limited, marginalized groups, such as women of color and women in low socioeconomic communities, would be disproportionately affected, said Charlotte Bleemer, 20, President of She’s The First, a global girl’s education advocacy group.

“As an organization, we want to highlight marginalized voices because there is a greater awareness of how they are being silenced in our country,” Bleemer said.

Bleemer said that the national climate around women’s reproductive rights has paralleled the national climate.

“People who never saw themselves involved in the feminist activism movement are now very vocal,” Bleemer said.

The movement has become more mainstream both throughout campus and the country, Bleemer said, describing this phenomenon as an odd silver lining to President Trump’s administration.

Black sits in front of the library before a class meeting.

While in the process of becoming mainstream, Bleemer said that she has seen activists working to continue the conversation about women’s rights in order to ensure that the message isn’t diluted or deradicalized in the process.

Andrew Stewart, a pro-life conservative sophomore, 19, does not believe that Trump’s administration will affect women’s access to abortion. But, if the opportunity arises, he would vote to support legislation that would make access to abortions more difficult.

In contrast, Anying Guo, 20, co-communications director of AU Women’s Initiative, says that she is sure that this administration will threaten women’s access to an abortion.

Of the 16 judicial nominations confirmed by the Senate since President Trump has been in office, over 93 percent have been white, and 75 percent have been men. Comparatively, of the 329 confirmations made throughout President Obama’s term, 64 percent were white and 58 percent were men, according to the Alliance for Justice.

Demographics of Judicial Confirmations by Presidential Administrations.

Black fears that the uniform conservative group of confirmations will lead to decisions that untie victories made for women’s reproductive rights.

The politically-heated campus climate has driven Women’s Initiative programming revolving around the intersection of inclusion and reproductive rights, Guo said. And, since the election, more people have openly shared their stories wanting to become involved in women’s reproductive rights advocacy, Guo said.

Guo emphasized that Planned Parenthood is integral in the movement of sharing these stories and educating other communities.

Over 300 Planned Parenthood student coalitions exist throughout the country, uniting students in advocacy and education efforts.

Days before President Trump’s inauguration, over 130 organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union and National Organization for Women signed a letter in support of Planned Parenthood, opposing any funding blocks by the Trump Administration.

In the face of fear, people become motivated to stand up for their rights and rely on each other, Guo said.

Black said she thinks pro-choice advocacy will grow as the administration progresses.

Black said she is most worried about the scar she thinks this presidency will leave on the country; to Costello, however, the administration’s decisions are not scars, but battles won.

“My conservative voice will be heard,” Costello said. “It’s my right, especially as a woman, to fight against abortion.”



Thousands gathered at the Women’s March in January days after President Trump’s inauguration. Photo by Hannah Rapoport.