Countering the Town Hallers: A Physician Speaks Out

Dr. Pratima Gupta

I refuse to let the anti-health reform demonstrators represent me or my patients. As an ob/gyn, I can say unequivocally that our country needs health care reform now, and it must provide comprehensive reproductive health care to all.

I refuse to let the anti-health
reform demonstrators represent me or my patients. As an obstetrician/gynecologist,
I can say unequivocally that our country needs health care reform now,
and this reform must provide comprehensive reproductive health care
to all.  

I am going to Nancy Pelosi’s
office to say so, with a petition in hand signed by hundreds of other
physicians, medical students, and people concerned about reproductive
health. Please
add your name.

Show Congress that you stand for a changed health care system that takes
care of women and families.  

As I plan my visit to my Congresswoman,
doctors and medical students in other states are also scheduling appointments
at their representatives and senators’ district offices. They, too,
will bring the petition, showing legislators that we stand together
in support of health reform and reproductive health care.  

During my visit, I hope to
talk with the Speaker and her staff about my patients. I see women who
can’t pay for the most basic health services-including Pap smears,
birth control prescriptions, STD testing and treatment, abortion, and
prenatal care. I see women get sick because they have not had this medical
attention – going without reproductive health care can affect a woman’s
health for her entire life. Their illnesses prevent them from caring
for their families and holding down their jobs.  

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Just this week I saw Tara,
a 27-year-old mother of two who was pregnant again after giving birth
in January. Tara’s first child is
3, and he has hydrocephalus, an excess of fluid on the brain. He needs
frequent medical attention to avoid brain damage.
After her second child was born, Tara went on the pill to make sure
that she wouldn’t get pregnant again. But a few months ago she
was laid off and lost her health insurance.
She could no longer afford her birth control pills.
Now because of a broken condom, she will add
a third child to a young family already under tremendous emotional and
financial strain. Any plan for health reform
must guarantee comprehensive reproductive health care so that women
like Tara can have children when they are ready, not when circumstances
force them to. 

I became a physician because
I wanted to heal. How can I keep women well when they can lose their
health insurance at a moment’s notice?
What can I do when patients need reproductive health care but their
insurance plans omit or pay too little for fundamental services?
How can I help the many women whose
jobs don’t offer insurance at all?  

According to a survey by the
Commonwealth Fund, 52% of women in the United States did not have the
money to visit a doctor about a medical problem, fill a necessary prescription,
or receive follow-up care. This is our nation’s status quo, a system
that routinely prices women out of health care. Indeed, some insurance
companies charge women as much as 45% more than men for individual policies
just because they are female. 

I want to help everyone stay
healthy, not just those fortunate enough to have insurance plans that
meet their medical and financial needs. With health care reform, Congress
has a chance to help all women and their families. If women could depend
on a set of affordable reproductive health care benefits, no matter
what insurance plan they have, they would stay healthier longer, strengthening
their families, workplaces, and society at large.  

I am going to Representative
Pelosi’s office because it is time for Congress to treat reproductive
health as a serious medical concern instead of a political football.
I encourage you to join me. Please consider
bringing the petition to your senator or representative so that we reach
as many members of Congress as possible during the August recess. Physicians
for Reproductive Choice and Health, the group behind the petition and
of which I am a board member, will help you arrange your visit, send
you the petition with the names to date, and provide you with talking
points about health reform and reproductive health. You will see more
details about delivering the petition once you sign it

Already, hundreds of people
have shown that they demand a health care reform plan
that includes reproductive health care services. I will be proud to
present my name and yours to the Speaker of the House.  

News Politics

Congresswoman Pushes Intersectionality at Democratic National Convention

Christine Grimaldi

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) charges that reproductive health-care restrictions have a disproportionate impact on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

The members of Congress who flocked to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week included a vocal advocate for the intersection of racial and reproductive justice: Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).

Watson Coleman’s longstanding work in these areas “represented the intersection of who I am,” she said during a discussion in Philadelphia sponsored by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Cosmopolitan. Reproductive health-care restrictions, she stressed, have a disproportionate effect on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

“These decisions impact these communities even more so [than others],” she told Rewire in an interview. “We don’t have the alternatives that middle-class, suburban, white women have. And we’d rather they have them.”

Watson Coleman has brought that context to her work in Congress. In less than two years on Capitol Hill, she co-founded the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls and serves on the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, a GOP-led, $1.2 million investigation that she and her fellow Democrats have called an anti-choice “witch hunt.”

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Coleman said she’s largely found support and encouragement among her fellow lawmakers during her first term as a woman of color and outspoken advocate for reproductive rights.

“What I’ve gotten from my Republican colleagues who are so adamantly against a woman’s right to choose—I don’t think it has anything to do with my being a woman or an African American, it has to do with the issue,” she said.

House Republicans have increasingly pushed anti-choice policies in advance of the ongoing August recess and November’s presidential election. The House this month passed the Conscience Protection Act, which would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face supposed coercion to provide abortion care or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in such care.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) lauded passage of the bill and the House’s thus-far unsuccessful effort to prove that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations—allegations based on widely discredited videos published by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-choice front group that has worked closely with GOP legislators to attack funding for Planned Parenthood.

On the other side of the aisle, Watson Coleman joined 118 other House Democrats to co-sponsor the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act (HR 2972). Known as the EACH Woman Act, the legislation would overturn the Hyde Amendment and ensure that every woman has access to insurance coverage of abortion care.

The Hyde Amendment’s restriction of federal funding for abortion care represents a particularly significant barrier for people with low incomes and people of color.

The Democratic Party platform, for the first time, calls for repealing the Hyde Amendment, though the process for undoing a yearly federal appropriations rider remains unclear.

For Watson Coleman, the path forward on getting rid of the Hyde Amendment is clear on at least one point: The next president can’t go it alone.

“The president will have to have a willing Congress,” she said. She called on the electorate to “recognize that this is not a personality contest” and “remove some of those people who have just been obstructionists without having the proper evidence.”

In the meantime, what does a “willing Congress” look like for legislation with anti-choice roadblocks? A majority voting bloc helps, Watson Coleman said. But that’s not everything.

“There are lots of bills that Republicans will vote for if their leadership would simply bring them up,” she said.

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.”