2020: A Pivotal Year for Reproductive Rights

Written by Stacie Murphy, Director of Congressional Relations | Published: March 2, 2020

A Frustrating End to the 2020 Appropriations Fight

On December 20, hours before the end of the second of two short-term continuing resolutions, Donald Trump signed a final Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations package. For family planning supporters, it was an underwhelming finale to a long process.

Going into negotiations, it looked like there was real potential for progress on international family planning. Back in June, the House of Representatives passed an excellent bill that included $750 million for bilateral programs through USAID, $55.5 million for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and a permanent repeal of the Global Gag Rule. The Senate’s version, in September, was less exciting—$632.5 million for USAID, $32.5 million for UNFPA, and although there was no Global Gag Rule repeal, there was some language about ensuring access to contraceptives. It wasn’t great, but for a chamber run by Mitch McConnell, it wasn’t terrible.

Somehow, though, the final bill wound up looking worse than either of the original bills. Bilateral family planning was level-funded at $610 million, despite the fact that both earlier bills called for increases. UNFPA likewise saw no increase. And not only did the final bill make no mention of the Global Gag Rule, the utterly anodyne Senate language about contraceptive access didn’t even make the cut. It turns out, however, that every other global health program received an increase in funding. It is, to put it mildly, a disappointing outcome.

SCOTUS to Hear Major Abortion Case

In October, the Supreme Court announced that it would consider June Medical Services, LLC v. Gee, a case involving a 2014 Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals—a burdensome requirement that multiple medical groups have said has no benefit for patients.

The law, which is not currently in effect, is essentially identical to the measure ruled unconstitutional in 2016’s Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision. However, with a new, more conservative Supreme Court majority, anti-choice groups are getting another bite at the apple—and there’s an excellent chance that this time they’ll win. Upholding the law would give anti-choice forces in multiple states an opportunity to essentially eliminate access to legal abortion within their jurisdictions.

Allied groups—on both sides—have already begun submitting amicus briefs. Our sister organization, Population Connection Action Fund, has signed on to a brief authored by the National Women’s Law Center. The Trump administration filed a brief not only seeking to uphold the Louisiana law, but also to sharply limit the ability of groups to challenge abortion restrictions in the future. Additionally, 207 members of Congress (39 Republican senators, 168 Republican House members, and two Democratic House members) went even further, filing an amicus brief asking the court to reconsider Roe v. Wade. Oral arguments are scheduled for March 4, with a decision likely coming in June.

Trump’s Lifetime-Appointed Federal Judges

If there weren’t already enough things about this administration keeping you up at night, consider this: Roughly one in five federal judges is now a Trump appointee. While Donald Trump generates headlines, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has turned the Senate into a judge-confirming machine, churning out lifetime appointments to the federal bench that will change the outlines of American jurisprudence for decades to come. Most people are likely familiar with Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, but they’re only the tip of the iceberg. Below, we’ve highlighted a few of Trump’s most disastrous appointments.

John Bush
United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Confirmation: July 20, 2017
  • Wrote anonymous blog posts equating abortion with slavery, opposing stem cell research, and denigrating basic social safety-net programs
  • After confirmation, voted to uphold a Kentucky law requiring physicians to perform medically unnecessary ultrasounds and play audible “heartbeat” sounds for abortion patients
  • Worked for The Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, which has a long track record of supporting anti-choice and other right-wing causes
Amy Coney Barrett
United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Confirmation: October 31, 2017
  • Federalist Society member who is on Trump’s shortlist for the Supreme Court (Trump is said to be “saving” her for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat, should it become open.)
  • Opposes the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage rule
  • Has stated that a legal career is “but a means to an end…that end is building the kingdom of God”
Wendy Vitter
United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana
Confirmation: May 16, 2019
  • As counsel for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans, promoted false claims about the supposed dangers of the birth control pill
  • Declined to answer whether she thought Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark school desegregation bill, was correctly decided
  • While moderating a panel at an anti-abortion conference, urged participants to leave brochures with their doctors stating that birth control leads to “violent death”
Brian Buescher
United States District Court for the District of Nebraska
Confirmation: July 24, 2019
  • Stated, “When regulating abortion, my view is this: We should regulate abortion as much as we possibly can. I’m in favor of banning abortion.”
  • Believes abortion should only be allowed in cases of life endangerment, specifically rejecting any rape or incest exceptions
  • Supports “personhood” laws
Steven Menashi
United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
Confirmed: November 14, 2019
  • Characterized Roe v. Wade and other U.S. Supreme Court decisions as “radical abortion rights advocated for by campus feminists,” contending that legal abortion “has led to clearly undesired moral consequences”
  • Denounced anti-rape activists as “campus gynocentrists”
  • Former Trump administration lawyer who refused to answer questions from senators about his role in the administration’s immigration policies
Sarah Pitlyk
United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri
Confirmed: December 4, 2019
  • Rated by the American Bar Association as “Not Qualified,” due to her lack of trial or litigation experience
  • Worked for the ultraconservative, anti-abortion Thomas More Society
  • Has called the use of contraception “evil,” a “seriously wrongful” act, and “a grave moral wrong”
  • Opposes surrogacy and in vitro fertilization