The slow drip-drip of revelations about exactly how deep Donald Trump was in with the Russians comes out on top of a veritable sea of corruption stories flooding out of the White House. But one scandal that’s getting less attention might end up having more dramatic impacts in the long run. It could end up drastically undermining women’s rights to get abortions, to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, and even to protect themselves from cancer. New evidence suggests that Trump is, in effect, selling off women’s rights to religious fundamentalists, and personally profiting from doing so.
This article was originally published at Salon
This week, Christian right media was buzzing with excitement at the news that President Trump had agreed to be the keynote speaker at the Susan B. Anthony List’s annual Campaign for Life gala. What wasn’t covered, however, was the fact that the anti-choice organization snagged Trump after funneling money into his private business. As Sharon Kann and Julie Tulbert of Media Matters reported this week, the group had been promoting official room blocks at the Trump International Hotel in Washington — at $399 a night — for attendees of the gala. The organization also promoted Trump’s property by having a contest whose winners got to stay at the hotel.
After Trump announced he would speak at the gala, the website for SBA List took down the advertisements for the hotel. But researchers at Media Matters got a screenshot.
Another report from this week, written by Robert Maguire at McClatchy, suggests another way that Trump has been collecting cash in exchange for promoting the anti-choice agenda.
“One of the largest contributions to President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee in 2016 appears to have been orchestrated by a set of powerful conservative legal activists who have since been put in the driver’s seat of the administration’s push to select and nominate federal judges,” Maguire wrote. The $1 million contribution was funneled through a shell company, but Maguire traced it back to activists with the Federalist Society who have lobbied Trump to “fill judicial vacancies as quickly as he can with staunchly conservative, preferably young jurists.”
To make the situation even more reprehensible, there’s an ongoing scandal regarding what, exactly, that inaugural money was spent on. Even though Trump’s inauguration was smaller and less well-staffed than Barack Obama’s, Trump raised nearly twice as much money and spent it all — though where that money all went remains a mystery.
As Ryan Bort at Rolling Stone writes, most of the $107 million raised for Trump’s inauguration “was used for overinflated administrative expenses, as well as to pay four separate event-planning firms,” at least one of which was created just a few weeks before the inauguration by a friend of Melania Trump’s. The amount of money paid out far exceeded what previous presidents had spent for much more significant levels of service, suggesting, in the words of Steve Kerrigan, who headed Obama’s inaugural committee in 2013, that Trump actually used inauguration accounts as “an opportunity to have a slush fund.”
It’s not unusual, especially in the era of dark money, for special interests to buy off candidates by spending lavishly on campaigns. But with the SBA List’s hotel choice and questions about the Trump-inauguration money’s final destination, there’s strong reason to worry that Trump is simply profiting directly from influence-peddling. What anti-choice activists appear to be getting in exchange is terrifying: An all-out assault on legal abortion and affordable contraception that could roll back decades of progress for women’s autonomy and reproductive health.
Amid the constant chaos of the news cycle, this has largely evaded mainstream attention, but the state of Iowa has effectively banned abortion. Technically, the ban takes effect around six weeks of gestation, but doctors don’t really provide abortions any earlier than that. This is the sort of thing that used to get thrown out in court almost immediately, which is possibly why most journalists are shrugging it off. But with Trump stacking the courts as rapidly as possible with judges hand-picked by anti-choice radicals, religious conservatives are betting on future court decisions that throw out abortion rights altogether.
Already, Leonard Leo, the executive vice president of the Federalist Society who helped funnel the $1 million to Trump’s inauguration account, has received a priceless return on investment. Neil Gorsuch, the arch-conservative and deeply anti-abortion judge picked by Trump for a seat that should have gone to Merrick Garland, was, by Gorsuch’s own admission, selected by Leo himself. Anti-abortion activists anticipate that Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has reluctantly upheld abortion rights in the past, will soon step down, giving Trump (and arguably Leo) another Supreme Court seat to fill. The recent stampede of serious abortion restrictions, such as the Iowa ban, is likely a direct response to the belief that Kennedy’s seat will be filled by a sympathetic right-winger by the time any such case makes it to the high court.
It’s not just abortion bans that anti-choice activists get for lavishing Trump with votes and money. In many ways, the all-out assault on birth control access is just as serious. Right now, the Trump administration is moving to implement a “gag rule” that would cut off all birth control funding to clinics that provide abortions, refer patients to abortion clinics or even mention abortion.
To be clear, the funds in question are already barred from going to abortion services themselves. Instead, the move is clearly geared towards cutting off birth control funding to Planned Parenthood and other clinics that actually provide those services in a reasonable and responsible fashion. The result, which is likely intentional, is no replacement services would emerge, and perhaps millions of women would be cut off from contraception services.
Disrupting the contraception usage of American women, especially unmarried women, has long been the great white whale of the anti-choice movement. It’s something true believers keenly desire, but it’s also so politically toxic that most activists are reluctant to speak honestly about the hostility to birth control baked into the anti-abortion movement.
Instead, activists have adopted a chipping-away strategy: They seek to carve out “religious freedom” exemptions in insurance coverage of contraception, push “abstinence-only” programs on teenagers and spread lies about how certain kinds of highly effective contraception, such as the birth control pill, are somehow clandestine forms of abortion. But under Trump, the war on contraception has escalated. Even President George W. Bush, who eagerly endorsed an “abstinence-only” agenda and blocked FDA approval of emergency contraception for years, didn’t gut a program that is estimated to prevent 1.9 million unintended pregnancies a year.
But Bush wasn’t getting his pockets directly lined by SBA List or other anti-choice activists, either. Trump, on the other hand, has raked in millions on his properties since getting elected president, and some of that money has come, with lots of pomp and ceremony, from anti-choice activists. As the questions surrounding the inaugural fund suggest, Trump may have many ways of wetting his beak with funds from those who would like to see women’s basic human rights terminated in return.