Along with the rest of the country eagerly
anticipating the inauguration of Barack Obama, the majority of American women
will be reveling in the fact that those who wanted to curb a woman’s right to
choose didn’t make it to the Oval Office.
However, after the warm glow subsides, the
reality of working to regain traction on ground that was lost during the Bush
administration will set in. With a
president in the White House who understands and accepts a woman’s right to
reproductive justice, the focus will now entail a reexamination of the
multitude of factors that are part of the larger picture.
As the economic crisis looms large, women need
to be able to connect the dots from financial empowerment to their health care
issues. In two recent events sponsored
by the American Association of University Women,
I was able to hear speakers define the picture.
At the first, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) was
the featured guest. The incoming
Democratic chair of the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues, she clarified
that "We have to undo some things." She
enumerated the "global gag rule, family planning money, and the conscience
clause." The latter she compared to
"hiring a fire fighter that won’t go into a burning building."
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With the goal of expanding paid and medical
leave, childcare resources, and retirement issues…it all comes down to
money. That conversation was taken up in
a press call sponsored by AAUW featuring women’s advocate, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Dem-Ct.). While the Lily Ledbetter Act
has received a lot of recognition, the Paycheck Fairness
Act – which ensures women a second avenue to pursue discrimination claims –
is not as visible to the general public. Both bills just passed in the House, but an
outspoken advocacy push will be needed for passage in the Senate. Advocacy links
have been set up to facilitate contacting Senators.
So how does this connect back to reproductive
justice and women’s health care? Do the math.
Women account for 50 percent of the work force. One fifth of women are without health
insurance, and half of women are in jobs without retirement plans. When you read the statistic that women are
earning 77 cents on the dollar, there is another set of figures beneath the
surface. Those tell the story about
women of color. Black women earn 67
cents on the dollar; Hispanic women are at the low end of the scale at 58
As Schakowsky noted in a 09/23/08 op-ed in The Hill,
"Women are disproportionately affected by higher medical costs that eat up more
of their wages." Women require more
health care, but have fewer financial resources to pay the bills. They pay 68
percent more than men for out-of-pocket expenses. As a result, one in four women is unable to
pay her medical bills.
This can boil down to lethal consequences. Schakowsky gives the figures of almost one in
five women in the nation as being uninsured, and therefore at risk of being one
of the 22,000 Americans who will die annually due to lack of coverage. Women of
color, those who hold the lowest paying jobs, and those who are living in
poverty are most adversely affected.
When converted into women’s medical realities
the results are:
Uninsured women with breast cancer are 30
to 50 percent more likely to die from the disease.
Uninsured women are three time less
likely to have had a Pap test in the last three years, setting them up for a 60
percent greater risk of late-stage cervical cancers.
13 percent of all pregnant women have no
therefore are less likely to follow a
course of prenatal care.
Breast cancer can be treated as a
In tandem with the work of the 111th
Congress to institute safety nets for women on the economic front and in the
reform of healthcare, The
Prevention First Act has been introduced to specifically deal with issues
including Family Planning, Teen Pregnancy, Sex Ed programs, and Emergency
Contraception for Rape Victims.
It should be noted that reproductive justice has
different meanings across the board. To
a young woman in college it can be access to low-cost birth control. To a mother-to-be it can translate as
affordable pre-natal and follow-up infant care.
To a woman living in poverty, it can be the resources to travel to a
health care provider or clinic.
It is worth reflecting on the fact that in 1969,
President Nixon stated in a message to Congress:
"It is my view that no American woman should be denied access to
family planning assistance because of her economic condition. I believe,
therefore, that we should establish as a national goal the provision of
adequate family planning services within the next five years to all those who
want them but cannot afford them. This we have the capacity to do."
On December 26, 1970, he signed Title X into law.
It’s been a long eight years, but we have
survived the badlands of the Bush administration. Good intentions on the part of the Obama
administration towards women’s concerns are a start, but not a guarantee. For that assurance, women need to look to
their own resolve.