It is time to take a serious look at gender discrimination and the war on women that run rampant in health care in the United States. Last year alone, 24 states passed 53 anti-choice laws, and according to the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, also known as NARAL Pro-Choice America, there have been 40 legislative attacks on contraceptive laws already this year. This is a critical time get active and speak up for women’s rights and reproductive justice.
Until the inclusion of the birth control benefit mandate of the Affordable Care Act, women faced a coverage gap, wherein preventative health care did not cover reproductive health care needs. According to the Center for American Progress, women of reproductive age spend 68 percent more on out-of-pocket health care costs than men do, in part due to contraceptive costs. The Daily Show from Wednesday, March 12th satirically demonstrated the drastic gender inequality in our healthcare system. Correspondent Samantha B, in a segment with NARAL president, Ilyse Hogue, revealed the shameful statistic that Medicare has spent $172 million on penis pumps over the last five years, and $819 million on Viagra, a huge double standard in public health in the US. Meanwhile, the high costs of birth control have forced many women to stop or delay using their preferred method, or to depend on less effective methods, which gives women less control over their bodies and health.
Attacking the birth control benefit for religious or political reasons hinders gender equality and the progress women have been making towards that equality for decades. Yet the owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, two for-profit companies, are fighting the Affordable Care Act by arguing that the birth control mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. The owners assert that a legal entity has First Amendment rights to freedom of religious expression: because birth control is against their beliefs, they do not want to cover it under their employees’ insurance plans. The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) heard these arguments on March 25th, but there likely won’t be a ruling until June. However, corporations are not and should not be considered people because, according to briefs on the SCOTUS blog, if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Hobby Lobby, the decision could lead to other discriminatory laws based on religious objections.
The decision to take birth control, like the decision to have an abortion, should be a personal choice that every woman has the right to make for herself and not one that an employer or state legislators should be able to decide. The restrictive and discriminatory legislation written and pushed by conservatives in the last few years has been growing momentum – stripping women’s access to reproductive health care by shutting down clinics and blocking sex education. Clinics that offer abortions as one of many health services are forced to close, and thousands of women are simultaneously losing access to primary health care providers.
On the other hand, progress is being made as pro-choice advocates take the offensive with more proactive pro-choice legislation. On January 27th, the New York State Assembly passed the Women’s Equality Act, a 10-point agenda to define a woman’s right to choose an abortion, and attempt to reduce gender-based pay discrimination, among other protections. Another bill on the table is the Women’s Health Protection Act, a federal bill that would prohibit states from passing Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws, which impose strict and cost-prohibitive building standards on abortion clinics and create other barriers to abortion access. In short, it would open the door to reiterate the rights that were secured nationally in Roe v. Wade and the opportunity to challenge and repeal recent restrictive anti-choice laws.
Planned Parenthood and all of its affiliates, along with other pro-choice organizations and advocates remain a strong stand in the community for reproductive health and justice by providing a wide range of services. For example, in 2013, Planned Parenthood of the Mid Hudson Valley conducted 7,200 cervical cancer screenings, 23,000 STI tests, and provided 10,400 emergency contraceptives. The top services provided are preventive care, such as birth control and STI testing. Planned Parenthood is dedicated to serving everyone who comes to their centers, regardless of their ability to pay.
This fall there will be some important local elections in the New York and Hudson Valley area that Planned Parenthood will be canvassing for. To be a stand for protecting reproductive rights and access to preventative care, sex education, birth control, abortion services, etc., in the Vassar and Poughkeepsie community, volunteering for Planned Parenthood of the Mid-Hudson Valley (PPMHV) is a great way to get involved. Volunteer opportunities include “escorting” patients from outside the clinic through the front door, as well as offering support in the recovery room, and advocacy in the health center. Or take it a step further and host a fundraiser or a talk on the Vassar campus led by the CEO of PPMHV! For more information, contact fellow Vassar grad and PPMHV public affairs representative, Amanda Moody, at [email protected].
Birth control revolutionized reproductive health and therefore the lives of women, giving them the ability to control family planning as well as autonomy over their own bodies. As such, conservatives who fight against no co-pay birth control coverage because they believe they are paying for “women’ sexual choices” are severely out of touch with reality. Women are not the only segment of the population having sex, but they bear the consequences of unplanned pregnancies; the chance of these pregnancies increase without access to contraceptives and sex education. So, please, the time is NOW to make phone calls, write, host campus events and keep talking about the importance of access to health care and birth control and women’s rights.
For more information about current legislation, visit my blog.