By Lisette Schillig
October 25, 2012
We are now less than two weeks away from Election Day. As the race tightens, my anxiety increases. Lately, I’ve been hearing far too many students declare that “it doesn’t matter” who wins office, that “all politicians are the same.” For a variety of reasons, I disagree. It will matter who wins this race, and it will matter a great deal to women, in the short term and the long.
Why am I concerned for women? First, access to reproductive health care. One candidate has vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, on his first day in office. This landmark legislation assures all women access to affordable health care and does not require them to pay more for insurance than men, as has historically been the case.
The act prohibits such discrimination. It also assures that young women (and men) can remain on their parents’ health insurance plan until they turn 26. If the act is repealed, then we’re to understand a voucher system would take its place, but it’s not clear how this voucher system will work, except that women will assuredly be at the mercy of private insurers once again. I fear that would mean a return to the same inequities that women have had to put up with for years.
Such inequities are evident in states across the country. A National Women’s Law Center report issued last spring points out that in states that have not banned “gender rating,” nearly all of the best-selling health plans charge women more than men. One health plan in Arkansas, for example, “charges 25-year-old women 81 percent more than men,” as reported by the Law Center president.
In spite of rhetoric from some that government shouldn’t interfere in people’s lives, there have been significant indications that the same people would very much like to interfere in women’s health care decisions, in part by limiting their access to services they depend on to stay healthy.
During the Republican primaries, there were many candidates who were calling for an end to government payments to Planned Parenthood, payments that help provide vital preventative services like cancer screenings; annual PAP smears; HPV vaccines; screenings for diabetes, high blood pressure, and STDs.
Thousands of young and low-income women who lack health care coverage go to Planned Parenthood for affordable health care. And in spite of the fact that federal dollars do not pay for abortions performed at Planned Parenthood clinics, the myth continues to be perpetuated.
Other family planning clinics are taking a hit as well in states across the country. Last year, Governor Rick Perry cut funding for family planning clinics in Texas by two thirds at a time when only 48% of Texans had private health insurance and over 25% had no coverage whatsoever. Thankfully, a federal court just ruled on Tuesday that Indiana could not cut Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood simply because the clinic provides abortions.
Who else is attempting to restrict women’s decision-making power over their own health care? If you recall, when there was flack over the Obamacare birth control mandate that required religious and non-religious institutions to cover the cost of employees’ birth control, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform weighed in.
Many referred to the hearing as a circus act because the committee was comprised entirely of men, and the only people allowed to testify were . . . men. When then law student Sandra Fluke complained, she was called a slut on national radio. Even after the Obama administration compromised and said the mandate would only apply to insurance companies, it didn’t matter. The work of the committee continued.
Clearly there was an agenda beyond the immediate concern over the mandate. Some might claim the “circus act” is so much “politics as usual,” and water under the bridge since nothing came of it. I disagree. This and other egregious examples of a disregard for women’s health and rights persist, and while one candidate may appear to be making concessions, presenting a more supportive platform for women, I think the real agenda has been revealed.
Part of that agenda is to wrest the control a woman has to make decisions about her own body. Last March, for example, a new law was introduced in Arizona that would give employers the right to ask an employee to prove she was using insurance to buy birth control for reasons other than pregnancy prevention. If she could not provide such proof, she risked getting fired.
Even if one argued that such a bill doesn’t stand a chance of passing, it hardly reassures women that there isn’t a concerted effort being made—and not just in Arizona—to dismantle women’s power to make their own health care decisions.
One of the biggest concerns that looms for me is the status of Roe v. Wade. The election will assuredly decide its fate. The president will likely appoint one or two of the next Supreme Court justices who could decide whether Roe v. Wade is overturned or upheld.
I was 11 years old when Roe v. Wade was decided. I have spent my entire adult life secure in knowing that my ability to make childbearing decisions was recognized as a fundamental right protected by the constitution. I fear those days may be numbered. Already, states have made efforts to chip away at Roe v. Wade. In spite of “softer” language from Republicans that exceptions will be made in cases of incest and rape, the agenda seems clear that even those determinations should be made at the state level. I suppose a woman could always follow the prescription that the wealthy Rick Santorum supporter Foster Friess offered: “Back in my day, [women] used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.”
Suffice to say, women desperate to end a pregnancy will find a way to do so. But some women will die in the process.
Such will be the picture “moving forward.”