Analysis Sexual Health

Why Cervical Cancer is an LGBT Issue

Verónica Bayetti Flores

When talking about bringing the number of cervical cancer deaths to zero, it is crucial not to forget about LGBTQ people’s distinct experiences accessing health care.

This article is cross-posted from and in partnership with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Healthand is published as part of a series on cervical cancer.

See all our coverage of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month 2012 here.

When talking about bringing the number of cervical cancer deaths to zero, it is crucial not to forget about LGBTQ people’s distinct experiences accessing health care. We know cervical cancer is completely preventable, and that regular pap smears are designed to catch any changes in the cervix that may lead to cancer later on. Just as with many other Latinas, however, preventing cervical cancer for LGBTQ Latin@s becomes a matter of access – to affordable exams, to providers who are culturally competent, and to providers who are trained to deal with LGBTQ patients. Unfortunately, for many LGBTQ Latin@s, affordable preventive care with properly trained clinicians is simply not accessible.

One of the most pressing issues for LGBTQ access to care is discrimination and bias. Homophobia at the doctor’s office is unfortunately common, and a great detractor to queer women seeking care. This then affects access to preventive care – women who have sex with women are at risk for cervical cancer, and research suggests that queer women who report positive attitudes about their providers are more likely to have had a recent pap. Transphobia is also a concern, and especially for highly gendered health services such as Pap smears, a huge barrier to access. In fact, in a recent survey about the experiences of transgender people with discrimination, nearly a quarter of trans Latin@s reported having been denied medical services due to their gender identity, and 36 percent reported delaying needed medicals services for fear of bias.

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Discrimination at the doctor’s office is only part of the problem, however. While person-to-person discrimination is an issue, the systematic oppression and marginalization of LGBTQ communities plays a role in LGBTQ Latin@s’ ability to afford care, research and knowledge about LGBTQ health, and clinicians’ training on treating LGBTQ patients. Existing research suggests that LGBTQ communities are disproportionately poor, and the Latin@ respondents of the Transgender Discrimination Survey reported high rates of both unemployment and harassment at work due to gender identity. This means that health care is often out of reach for these communities, especially non-emergency and preventive care such as Pap smears. But even if LGBTQ people are able to afford care, most physicians are woefully unprepared to treat LGBTQ patients due to a lack of training on relevant issues.

We are seeing progress, however. Reproductive justice activism is incorporating the needs of LGBTQ communities, and the LGBTQ advocates are beginning to consider reproductive rights issues as ones that are relevant to their base. Every day we are seeing research on LGBTQ health grow. And last November, in a historic move, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement urging their members to be prepared to treat transgender patients. It’s a long road ahead, but as long as we don’t forget our LGBTQ herman@s in the fight to bring down cervical cancer deaths to zero, we are moving forward.

News Law and Policy

New Hampshire Council Restores Funding to Planned Parenthood

Teddy Wilson

The council’s 3-2 vote to approve the contract comes ten months after the executive body voted to reject a similar contract. In both cases Councilor Chris Sununu (R- Newfields) was the deciding vote.

The New Hampshire Executive Council voted Wednesday to reinstate a contract with Planned Parenthood amid pre-election politics.

The council’s 3-2 vote to approve the contract comes ten months after the executive body voted to reject a similar contract. In both cases Councilor Chris Sununu (R-Newfields) was the deciding vote. 

Sununu is a Republican candidate for governor of New Hampshire. 

Council members Chris Pappas (D-Manchester) and Colin Van Ostern (D-Concord), a Democratic candidate for governor, also voted to approve the contract, while members Joe Kenney (R-Union) and David Wheeler (R-Milford) voted to reject the contract.

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The $549,000 contract will fund services like physical exams, sexually transmitted infection tests, and breast and cervical cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood health centers in New Hampshire.

There are five Planned Parenthood facilities in the state. All of them offer a range of other reproductive health-care services; only two provide abortion services.

“We are pleased that a bipartisan majority of the Council listened to their constituents and the majority of New Hampshire voters and chose to reverse course from last year’s vote,” Jennifer Frizzell, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund, said in a statement“Blocking access to health care at Planned Parenthood threatened the wellbeing of Granite State citizens.”

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England served 14,191 patients at the end of 2014, according to statistics provided by the organization. That number dropped by 21 percent, to 11,119, by the end of 2015 following the council vote to reject its funding request. 

Last year Sununu voted against approving the contract for Planned Parenthood citing surreptitiously recorded videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress.

The organization’s leader, David Daleiden, is facing a felony indictment in Texas for tampering with government documents.

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan refused to investigate Planned Parenthood in the wake of the smear campaign. “We do not launch investigations in the state of New Hampshire on rumor,” Hassan said last August according to a local ABC affiliate. “We do not launch criminal investigations in the state of New Hampshire because somebody edits a tape.”

Hassan is a candidate for the U.S. Senate, and a crowded field of Democrats and Republicans are competing to succeed her in November.

Sununu defended his vote in January because of Hassan’s refusal to investigate Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and because of political pressure from reproductive rights advocates after his vote against the funding. “They proved themselves to be bullies and I don’t do business with bullies,” Sununu said, reported Seacoast Online.

However, Sununu’s tone changed Wednesday. “As [Planned Parenthood] is no longer under investigation, they should be treated like any other organization that comes before the council,” said Sununu in a statement.

Sununu told reporters after the vote that he decided not to allow politics to interfere with ensuring health care access in the state.

“I’m not going to let politics [influence] the importance of funds that go to help low-income women. I’ve been a supporter of these types of funds since the day I became a councilor, and I’m going to maintain my consistency with that support,” Sununu said, reported New Hampshire Public Radio.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Frank Edelblut reportedly criticized Sununu for his vote. He remarked, according to New Hampshire Public Radio: “Clearly what this shows is we’ve got a lack of principle here. We need a governor who has principles that the voters can rely on.” 

Commentary Abortion

Why Is Obama Afraid to Embrace Reproductive Rights?

Erin Matson

On June 14, the White House will host the United State of Women Summit to "celebrate the progress we've made on behalf of women and girls and to talk about how we're taking action moving forward." Yet abortion is nowhere on the agenda.

On June 14, the White House will host the United State of Women Summit to, as its website explains, “celebrate the progress we’ve made on behalf of women and girls and to talk about how we’re taking action moving forward.” Yet reproductive rights are scarcely included.

Six themes are on the agenda: economic empowerment; educational opportunity; violence against women; entrepreneurship and innovation; leadership and civic engagement; and health and wellness—”looking at health coverage, preventative care, pregnancy and more.” Speakers will discuss a number of topics to “inspire all of us to take action on June 14th and well after.” The audience is to be made up of advocates and leaders hand-selected by the White House.

Prenatal care is highlighted in the programming descriptions. Contraceptive coverage is mentioned as part of the Affordable Care Act. Maternal mortality and HIV prevention is discussed as an issue of global health, although these issues remain urgent within the United States as well, with women of color experiencing unconscionable disparities in care. Yet the word “abortion” is nowhere to be found.

This, despite the fact that in the last five years, states put upwards of 288 new abortion restrictions on the books, which is more than a quarter of the total such laws adopted since Roe v. Wade. It’s not stopping. In the first three months of 2016, states introduced 411 new abortion restrictions. The “pro-life” dream is coming true: Clinics are closing, specific methods of abortion are being banned, and those women who take matters into their own hands are starting to trickle into jails under fetal homicide laws that backers swore wouldn’t be used to prosecute women.

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President Obama is well aware of these issues. He knows that Congress has established a select investigative panel for the purpose of harassing Planned Parenthood, even after the sting videos created by David Daleiden to bring the organization down were thoroughly debunked. He knows that the incendiary rhetoric used by the activists and politicians colluding with Daleiden sadly and predictably erupted into a terrorist act, leading to the murder of three people in a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood health center late last year. He knows that five men and three women in Supreme Court robes are considering Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a challenge to Texas’ abortion clinic closure law and the biggest abortion access case in a generation.

In this environment, there is no acceptable excuse for leaving abortion out of a policy agenda for women. Abortion is an inextricable part of the struggle for women’s equality, and as I’ve covered for Rewire previously, you simply can’t do feminism—a commitment to the social and political equality of all people, especially women and girls—and set the controversy of abortion off to the side.

The strategy of trying to make things better for women by talking about everything but reproductive rights doesn’t work. Hushing up about abortion has not magically ended the domestic violence crisis, produced the votes for paycheck fairness, or mandated paid family leave. Leaving abortion to the side has certainly failed to help women parent their children in safe and healthy communities, free of state or systemic violence.

And yet the current plan for the United State of Women Summit is silence. As a time for women’s advocates to gather and outline strategies for moving forward, abortion should be included, period. Obama has nothing to lose politically by taking a more robust stand on reproductive rights during the sunset days of his administration. In fact, embracing abortion and sexual health for women would serve to strengthen his legacy toward women and girls.

Since that history-making day in 2009 when he took office, Obama has mistakenly treated reproductive rights as playing second fiddle to the women’s movement, and to his broader legacy toward dignity, equality, and justice for all. Yes, Cecile Richards has visited his White House 42 times and yes, public actions such as including the birth control benefit in the health-care law and refusing to allow shutdown-happy Republicans in Congress to defund Planned Parenthood show a level of access, commitment, and support.

But when this president convenes a big table, even a women’s summit, abortion is lucky to get a folding chair in the back. Women who have sex are placed in a silo on purpose.

If we’re honest about it, abortion is controversial because affirming a woman’s inherent right to dignity, power, and sexual pleasure is the controversy. This is about gender roles, sexuality, and control—especially over people born into bodies of color and families without wealth.

Either we believe that women are people and deserve dignity, or we don’t. There is no such thing as equality for women if the precondition of equality is that women shut their legs. Justice doesn’t come with behavioral preconditions targeting the very people experiencing injustice.

An advocate for reproductive health, rights, or justice could, on a level, sympathize with Obama for not wanting to have his presidency and even his legacy-minded women’s summit flanked by bloody fetus posters and buses full of Troy Newmans. But the threat of a sideshow shouldn’t stand in the way of justice. On other issues, this president and his administration have proven capable of growing and changing, as with Obama’s journey to embrace marriage equality. Or, more recently, consider the administration’s clear and firm stance for equality in the face of outrageous discrimination and lies peddled by the right wing, as when it filed suit against North Carolina’s bathroom discrimination law as Attorney General Loretta Lynch told the transgender community, “We see you.”

Not so with reproductive rights. Even the signature accomplishment of the Affordable Care Act—the birth control benefit—was tarnished by new restrictions on abortion funding, and contraceptive coverage exemptions that continue to grow and fail to placate the opposition. President Obama traded away Washington, D.C.’s right to local abortion funding in 2011. His administration attempted to overrule the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to make emergency contraception available over-the-counter without age restriction, an issue that had to be resolved by force of a court order. To date he has failed to take action to correct a ridiculous interpretation of the Helms Amendment, which bars funding in foreign assistance for abortion “as a method of family planning,” and surely was meant to include customary exceptions for rape, incest, and life endangerment. The president has the sole power to fix this—no congressional action required. An executive order on Helms that stands up for rape victims in war zones and women who can’t live through a pregnancy should be a no-brainer.

In any case, this issue can and should be corrected now. Abortion should not be censored out of Obama’s big party for feminism, nor from feminism in general. A webmaster can add reproductive rights to the United State of Women Summit website, and the programming can be updated. President Obama can, for that matter, sign a life-saving executive order on Helms. And his legacy toward women that he cares so much about will be vastly improved.

CORRECTION: This piece has been updated to reflect the correct number of themes on the agenda at the summit.