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Trump’s War on Sex

Photo by Nathaniel St. Clair

In May, Pres. Donald Trump gave the keynote speech for the Susan B. Anthony List annual “Campaign for Life,” a gathering tosupport political candidates who oppose abortion. “When I ran for office, I pledged to stand for life,” he proclaimed. “And as president, that’s exactly what I’ve done. And I have kept my promise, and I think everybody here understands that fully.”

Going further, he reminded those in attendance: “We’re also seeking passage of the 20-week abortion bill, which would end painful, late-term abortions nationwide.”  He added, “The House just passed the bill. The Democrats in the Senate are doing everything within their power to block it, although some are actually on our side, but they are working overtime to block it.”

Since taking office, Trump, his administration and the Republican-controlled Congress has moved aggressive to implement some of the most repressive public-policy initiatives since the current round of the culture wars began four decades ago.  Backed by Vice Pres. Mike Pence, an antiabortionist absolutist, and key Cabinet officials – notably Jeff Session (Justice), Betsy DeVos (Education) and [originally] Tom Price (Health & Human Services) — his administration moved quickly to rescind more liberal and humane Obama-era sex-related policies.

Trump’s Departments of Justice and Education ordered schools nationwide to enforce gender-identity regulations based on the student’s birth certificate, thus blocking transgender students access to bathrooms and other facilities.  Trumpfollowed with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, a conservative in the mold of former Justice Antonia Scalia, to the Supreme Court who has performed as expected.

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Over the last year-and-a-half, Trump, together with his rightwing administration and a Republican-controlled Congress, has moved aggressively to implement a war on sex.  They have conducted this campaign on a number of fronts and the following identifies some of these.

Limiting abortion access

Efforts to end a woman’s right to an abortion remain the religious right’s principle goal.  To this end, efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade remain primary in the Congress and in legislatures across the country.

The administration is seeking to limit Title X that protects family planning clinics by revising the program’s priorities.

In 1984, Pres. Ronald Reagan first promulgated the “global gag rule” requiring foreign NGOs to certify that they will not “perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning,” using funds from any source (including non-U.S. funds), as a condition for receiving U.S. government global family planning assistance. In January 2017, the Trump administration reinstated the ban and recently announced plans to impose it on domestic health-care providers receiving federal funds.

In January, HHS established the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division “to restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom.”  Its goal is ostensibly to enforce anti-abortion regulations.

(Iowa legislators recently enacted a law restricting abortions to when the fetal heartbeat is detected about six weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman realizes she’s pregnant.)

Overturn Affordable Care Act (ACA)

Trump is seeking to end the ACA and Republicans have targeted ACA’s contraceptive coverage guarantee.  In addition, the Congress is seeking to impose work requirement on Medicaid recipients.

Restrict asylum claims

AG Sessions has told immigration judges across the country to stop granting asylum to most victims of domestic abuse and gang violence, including rape and other forms of sexual violence.

End teen sex-education

In 2017, HHS cut more than $200 million for teen pregnancy prevention efforts. HHS cut short Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program grant periods for 81 grantees across the nation this summer—despite objections by career and senior staff at the Office of Adolescent Health, which administers the program.

Restrict rights of transgender people

In July 2017 Tweet, Trump called for the reinstatement of the ban on transgender Americans serving in the U.S. military; in March 2018, the administration released new order restricting the ability of transgender individuals to serve in the military.

HHS is revising its LGBT-related health data collection, a window into health status and discrimination. Last month it established a new religious liberty division to defend health workers who have religious objections to treating LGBT patients.

Promote abstinence-only-until-marriage programs

Congress and the administration are calling for dramatic funding increases for abstinence-only programs.

In 1981, the federal government began funding so-called Abstinence-Only Until Marriage programs to encourage “chastity” and “self-discipline.”  According to one estimate, the government has spent more than $2 billion on the “ab-only” strategy.

Today, federal health agencies are promoting the policy that life starts at conception (the fertilization of an egg) and now being required to highlight their programs as “serving and protecting Americans at every stage of life, beginning at conception.”

Recent funding bills have suggested “sexual risk avoidance” programs should be the primary form of sex education.

Support for “religious freedom” laws

Trump supports “religious freedom” laws represented by Mississippi’s Religious Liberty Accommodations Act (aka Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act) that legalizes discrimination of LGBT people based on (i) marriage as a union between one man and one woman, (ii) that sexual relations can take place only within such a marriage and (iii) that gender is an immutable biological characteristic.

Victims of sexual assault

The administration halted a Department of Labor effort to reduce domestic abuse, sexual assault, and other workplace violence in the healthcare industry.

Sec. DeVos rescinded Obama-era campus sexual assault guidelines in terms of how schools enforce Title IX.  As she said, “As I said earlier this month, the era of rule by letter is over.”  This was part of an effort to limit the enforcement authority of the Office for Civil Rights and cut prosecution of campus sexual assault.

New censorship laws

On April 11th, Pres. Trump signed an act that reconciled the Senate’s Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the House’s Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) that ostensible aims suppress sex trafficking. While ostensibly targeted at sex trafficking, the Act’s principle purpose is to revise Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act (DCA) that protected website operators from liability for user-generated content. It immunized site owners from civil and criminal charges from sex trafficking or “promoting or facilitating prostitution.”

Enforcing “forbidden” words

In its 2019, CDC administrators have banned the following terms — “evidence-based,” “science-based,” “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” and “fetus.”

In addition, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Transportation have removed references to humanity’s role in rising average temperatures from their all websites and press releases.

***

The U.S. is in the midst of a war on sex.  It culminates four decades of the current culture wars and reflects how the religious right has seized state power, both at the federal level and among many state legislatures.  And, sadly, it will likely only get worse as long as the right controls the three key domains of federal power — the Congress, the administration and the judiciary (especially the Supreme Court and federal prosecutors under Sessions).

Trump is at the center of the nation’s battle over its sexual future.  Trump’s truly misogynist sex life – often involving consensual, commercial and unwanted encounters — signifies the ultimate immortality of the religious right’s invocation of morality, especially with regard to a woman’s control over her pregnancy.

Four out of five white evangelical voters (80%) voted for Trump and many continue to support him.  The right has targeted sex as a key feature of its campaign to fulfill the culture wars.  The religious right has made a compact with the devil and it will likely to continue unquestionable support Trump during the rest of his tenure.  It’s likely only going to get worse.

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David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

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