Invite Tom Daschle to Your House for Cookies – and Health Care Reform

Lois Uttley

When's the last time the Secretary of Health and Human Services asked to drop by and find out what we think about fixing America's broken health care system?

How many of you are inviting
Tom Daschle over
for egg nog and a nice, friendly discussion about health
reform and reproductive health during the holidays?  

What, you’re too busy shopping
the discount stores for affordable presents, figuring out what to serve
at that Chanukah party or Christmas dinner and – oh yes, worrying
about your rent, your mortgage, the grocery bills, your 401K and even
whether you’ll still have a job come January? Don’t have time to
dust for Daschle? 

Yes, it’s inconvenient. Surely,
no woman would have suggested trying to host community health care meetings
between December 15 and 31, but come on! When’s the last time the
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services asked to drop by and find
out what we think about fixing America’s broken health care system?  

We have an incoming administration
that says it actually wants to hear what all of us think about the problems
with the current system and what would improve it. Moreover, our next
President says he thinks we need to get started on health reform right
away, in the middle of the economic crisis. 

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"It’s not something we
can put off because we’re in an emergency," President-elect Barack
Obama said at his news conference Thursday. "It’s part
of the emergency." He cited increasing joblessness, and the loss of
health coverage that accompanies layoffs, skyrocketing health premium
costs and the rise in personal bankruptcy filings related to medical
debt. "The runaway cost of health care is punishing families and businesses,"
he said.  

With that, Obama introduced
former Senator Daschle as his nominee to head not only the Department
of Health and Human Services, but also a special health reform office
within the White House. Daschle is no stranger to the women’s health
community, as Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile
Richards quickly pointed out: "Former Sen. Daschle has a strong
record of standing up for women’s health and women’s rights and
supporting commonsense policies that improve health outcomes for women." 

So, let’s invite our friends,
neighbors and family over. Go to to sign up to lead one of these discussions
at your house, and let Tom Daschle know where to find you. Perhaps he’ll
even arrive early enough to help put out the napkins and cookies.  

While he’s sipping and munching,
what do we want to tell him? Here are some suggestions from "A Woman’s
Vision of Quality Health Care for All" produced by Raising Women’s
Voices for the Health Care We Need, based on small-group discussions
with women like you all across the country: 

  • Health care coverage
    must be affordable. Women and our families need to be able to afford
    not only the premiums, but also those co-pays and deductibles. Don’t
    forget that women still earn, on average, only 75 cents for every dollar
    that men earn, and we use the health system a lot more, in part because
    of our need for reproductive health care. So, for example, we may have
    prescription drug coverage for birth control, but the co-pay for filling
    the prescription can make it unaffordable.
  • Health care coverage
    must be always available. One quarter of American women get our health
    coverage through a spouse’s employer, meaning we are at risk of losing
    it through divorce. Others of us are unable to get coverage at all because
    of insurance company policies denying coverage for people with pre-existing
    conditions, such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer or even having had
    a c-section delivery! Still more of us work at low-wage jobs that don’t
    offer health insurance.
  • Health care systems
    must provide the acute, preventive, chronic and supportive health care
    services that women and our families need. Let’s start with comprehensive
    reproductive health care – contraception, sexuality education, sterilizations,
    abortions and a full range of childbirth choices – but don’t stop
    there. We also need services across women’s lifespans, including support
    for family caregivers, who are overwhelmingly women. Don’t forget
    mental health and dental services.
  • Health care systems
    must actively work to achieve equity and eliminate disparities in health
    care provision. Women who are low-income, immigrants and women of color
    are at the highest risk for having no health insurance or being under-insured.
  • The health care
    system must be user-friendly, easy to navigate and transparent. Who
    can decipher all those insurance company rules and requirements? Who
    can make sense of the bills we get, or which doctors are in the networks
    we are supposed to use? Women know these problems intimately, because
    we are the arrangers of health care for most families.
  • We must attain the
    highest attainable standard of health for women, our families and our
    communities. Health coverage is an important first step, but it can’t
    be the only one we take. We need to address environmental threats to
    our health care, lack of healthy food choices for some urban residents
    and lack of recreational opportunities. Prevention and a health environment
    can keep us healthy!

Need more ideas of what to
say? Visit  Let us know if you host a health
care conversation in your home. Send us a summary of what was said (to If Tom Daschle didn’t show up
at your house, we’ll help make sure he finds out what happened. We’ll
even send you a thank you!

News Politics

Democratic Party Platform: Repeal Bans on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Hillary Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde Amendment.”

Democrats voted on their party platform Monday, codifying for the first time the party’s stated commitment to repealing restrictions on federal funding for abortion care.

The platform includes a call to repeal the Hyde Amendment, an appropriations ban on federal funding for abortion reimplemented on a yearly basis. The amendment disproportionately affects people of color and those with low incomes.

“We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured,” states the Democratic Party platform. “We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment.”

The platform also calls for an end to the Helms Amendment, which ensures that “no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.”

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Though Helms allows funding for abortion care in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment, the Obama administration has failed to enforce those guarantees.

Despite the platform’s opposition to the restrictions on abortion care funding, it makes no mention of how the anti-choice measures would be rolled back.

Both presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have promised to address Hyde and Helms if elected. Clinton has said she would “fix the Helms Amendment.”

Speaking at the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum in January, Clinton said that the Hyde Amendment “is just hard to justify because … certainly the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.” In 2008, Clinton’s campaign told Rewire that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said in an interview with the Weekly Standard that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

“The Hyde amendment and Helms amendment have prevented countless low-income women from being able to make their own decisions about health, family, and future,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement, addressing an early draft of the platform. “These amendments have ensured that a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion is a right that’s easier to access if you have the resources to afford it. That’s wrong and stands directly in contrast with the Democratic Party’s principles, and we applaud the Party for reaffirming this in the platform.”

Analysis Human Rights

El Salvador Bill Would Put Those Found Guilty of Abortion Behind Bars for 30 to 50 Years

Kathy Bougher

Under El Salvador’s current law, when women are accused of abortion, prosecutors can—but do not always—increase the charges to aggravated homicide, thereby increasing their prison sentence. This new bill, advocates say, would heighten the likelihood that those charged with abortion will spend decades behind bars.

Abortion has been illegal under all circumstances in El Salvador since 1997, with a penalty of two to eight years in prison. Now, the right-wing ARENA Party has introduced a bill that would increase that penalty to a prison sentence of 30 to 50 years—the same as aggravated homicide.

The bill also lengthens the prison time for physicians who perform abortions to 30 to 50 years and establishes jail terms—of one to three years and six months to two years, respectively—for persons who sell or publicize abortion-causing substances.

The bill’s major sponsor, Rep. Ricardo Andrés Velásquez Parker, explained in a television interview on July 11 that this was simply an administrative matter and “shouldn’t need any further discussion.”

Since the Salvadoran Constitution recognizes “the human being from the moment of conception,” he said, it “is necessary to align the Criminal Code with this principle, and substitute the current penalty for abortion, which is two to eight years in prison, with that of aggravated homicide.”

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The bill has yet to be discussed in the Salvadoran legislature; if it were to pass, it would still have to go to the president for his signature. It could also be referred to committee, and potentially left to die.

Under El Salvador’s current law, when women are accused of abortion, prosecutors can—but do not always—increase the charges to aggravated homicide, thereby increasing their prison sentence. This new bill, advocates say, would worsen the criminalization of women, continue to take away options, and heighten the likelihood that those charged with abortion will spend decades behind bars.

In recent years, local feminist groups have drawn attention to “Las 17 and More,” a group of Salvadoran women who have been incarcerated with prison terms of up to 40 years after obstetrical emergencies. In 2014, the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion) submitted requests for pardons for 17 of the women. Each case wound its way through the legislature and other branches of government; in the end, only one woman received a pardon. Earlier this year, however, a May 2016 court decision overturned the conviction of another one of the women, Maria Teresa Rivera, vacating her 40-year sentence.

Velásquez Parker noted in his July 11 interview that he had not reviewed any of those cases. To do so was not “within his purview” and those cases have been “subjective and philosophical,” he claimed. “I am dealing with Salvadoran constitutional law.”

During a protest outside of the legislature last Thursday, Morena Herrera, president of the Agrupación, addressed Velásquez Parker directly, saying that his bill demonstrated an ignorance of the realities faced by women and girls in El Salvador and demanding its revocation.

“How is it possible that you do not know that last week the United Nations presented a report that shows that in our country a girl or an adolescent gives birth every 20 minutes? You should be obligated to know this. You get paid to know about this,” Herrera told him. Herrera was referring to the United Nations Population Fund and the Salvadoran Ministry of Health’s report, “Map of Pregnancies Among Girls and Adolescents in El Salvador 2015,” which also revealed that 30 percent of all births in the country were by girls ages 10 to 19.

“You say that you know nothing about women unjustly incarcerated, yet we presented to this legislature a group of requests for pardons. With what you earn, you as legislators were obligated to read and know about those,” Herrera continued, speaking about Las 17. “We are not going to discuss this proposal that you have. It is undiscussable. We demand that the ARENA party withdraw this proposed legislation.”

As part of its campaign of resistance to the proposed law, the Agrupación produced and distributed numerous videos with messages such as “They Don’t Represent Me,” which shows the names and faces of the 21 legislators who signed on to the ARENA proposal. Another video, subtitled in English, asks, “30 to 50 Years in Prison?

International groups have also joined in resisting the bill. In a pronouncement shared with legislators, the Agrupación, and the public, the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Women (CLADEM) reminded the Salvadoran government of it international commitments and obligations:

[The] United Nations has recognized on repeated occasions that the total criminalization of abortion is a form of torture, that abortion is a human right when carried out with certain assumptions, and it also recommends completely decriminalizing abortion in our region.

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights reiterated to the Salvadoran government its concern about the persistence of the total prohibition on abortion … [and] expressly requested that it revise its legislation.

The Committee established in March 2016 that the criminalization of abortion and any obstacles to access to abortion are discriminatory and constitute violations of women’s right to health. Given that El Salvador has ratified [the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights], the country has an obligation to comply with its provisions.

Amnesty International, meanwhile, described the proposal as “scandalous.” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas director, emphasized in a statement on the organization’s website, “Parliamentarians in El Salvador are playing a very dangerous game with the lives of millions of women. Banning life-saving abortions in all circumstances is atrocious but seeking to raise jail terms for women who seek an abortion or those who provide support is simply despicable.”

“Instead of continuing to criminalize women, authorities in El Salvador must repeal the outdated anti-abortion law once and for all,” Guevara-Rosas continued.

In the United States, Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-CA) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) issued a press release on July 19 condemning the proposal in El Salvador. Rep. Torres wrote, “It is terrifying to consider that, if this law passed, a Salvadoran woman who has a miscarriage could go to prison for decades or a woman who is raped and decides to undergo an abortion could be jailed for longer than the man who raped her.”

ARENA’s bill follows a campaign from May orchestrated by the right-wing Fundación Sí a la Vida (Right to Life Foundation) of El Salvador, “El Derecho a la Vida No Se Debate,” or “The Right to Life Is Not Up for Debate,” featuring misleading photos of fetuses and promoting adoption as an alternative to abortion.

The Agrupacion countered with a series of ads and vignettes that have also been applied to the fight against the bill, “The Health and Life of Women Are Well Worth a Debate.”

bien vale un debate-la salud de las mujeres

Mariana Moisa, media coordinator for the Agrupación, told Rewire that the widespread reaction to Velásquez Parker’s proposal indicates some shift in public perception around reproductive rights in the country.

“The public image around abortion is changing. These kinds of ideas and proposals don’t go through the system as easily as they once did. It used to be that a person in power made a couple of phone calls and poof—it was taken care of. Now, people see that Velásquez Parker’s insistence that his proposal doesn’t need any debate is undemocratic. People know that women are in prison because of these laws, and the public is asking more questions,” Moisa said.

At this point, it’s not certain whether ARENA, in coalition with other parties, has the votes to pass the bill, but it is clearly within the realm of possibility. As Sara Garcia, coordinator of the Agrupación, told Rewire, “We know this misogynist proposal has generated serious anger and indignation, and we are working with other groups to pressure the legislature. More and more groups are participating with declarations, images, and videos and a clear call to withdraw the proposal. Stopping this proposed law is what is most important at this point. Then we also have to expose what happens in El Salvador with the criminalization of women.”

Even though there has been extensive exposure of what activists see as the grave problems with such a law, Garcia said, “The risk is still very real that it could pass.”