When Health Reform Hurts

From what I understand of legal and judicial precedent, the Federal government is not supposed to interfere with a woman’’s right to choose when, how and under what circumstances to have or not have a child. This includes the right to a safe and legal abortion as under the conditions of the Roe v. Wade United States Supreme Court decision of 1973.
Late last Saturday night, this right began unraveling in the House of Representatives. When the vote was over, the House had passed a comprehensive health care reform bill that essentially eliminates a woman’’s right to choose abortion. The Stupak-Pitts amendment, which was included in the House bill, makes it illegal for any provider in the proposed health care exchange, the marketplace created for individuals and businesses, or in any public option, to provide abortion coverage.
Women would instead be able to purchase an abortion “rider,” additional coverage for abortion services. Anti-choice groups would have us believe that this is a reasonable compromise, but who would choose to pay extra for a service that they don’’t ever expect to use? Women cannot anticipate unintended or untenable pregnancies. Furthermore, in the five states that have abortion rider requirements already, there is no evidence that such riders have ever been made available. Losing the right to purchase abortion coverage with their own funds puts women at risk. Low and middle income women who will need subsidies to purchase insurance, those who are in the greatest need of comprehensive and high quality health care, are left without options. The lives of women and their families literally hang in the balance.
The decision to have or not have an abortion should remain between a woman and her doctor; this amendment threatens to revoke the right to that decision and violates the very spirit of health care reform. Health care reform isn’t about promoting one ideology over another, it’s about the legal and moral rights of people to receive the comprehensive health care that they need and deserve – and not to be denied coverage of services that are currently covered by most insurance companies.
It’’s extremely difficult for me to be happy about reform that doesn’’t provide access to comprehensive reproductive health care for millions of women – so I’’m not going to be. A health system that doesn’t give us access to care we need is inherently unjust and unacceptable. So I’’m going to believe that it will not be codified. I’’m going to put my faith in the Unitarian Universalists and other champions of reproductive justice out there, and I’’m going to believe in the power of advocacy.
But I need your help. I can’’t do it without you. Please contact your Senators and the White House with a clear message telling them to enact health care reform that does not eliminate services that women already receive, including comprehensive reproductive care, including abortion.

Thank You, President Obama

Following yesterday’s anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision, President Barack Obama prepares today to rescind what has been known as the “global gag rule.” The regulation, in place for 17 of the past 25 years, prohibits health organizations receiving US foreign aid dollars from discussing abortion in any way. In an article on British news website guardian.co.uk, Dr. Gill Greer, director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation affirms:

The gag rule has done immense harm and caused untold suffering to millions around the world …. It has undermined health systems and endangered the lives and health of the poorest and most vulnerable women on the planet by denying access to life saving family planning, sexual and reproductive health and HIV services and exposing them to the dangers of unsafe abortion.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

I hope that this victory is the first of many that women all over the world can expect in the coming weeks, months and years of the Obama administration. For easy and effective ways that you can get involved in working for reproductive choice and justice, take a moment to visit the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice Action Center. A letter or phone call to your representative could make a difference in passing important legislation that supports reproductive health and education.

President Obama’s statement from yesterday. I feel proud and blessed that he is the leader of my country.

The 36th Anniversary of Roe v Wade

Today marks the anniversary of the historic supreme court decision that allowed women access to safe and legal abortion. It is a day to celebrate the success of women such as Dottie Doyle, a former state representative from Maine and a Unitarian Universalist who worked with so many others to help decriminalize abortion in the United States. Read her story here on the UUA website. After learning about Dorothy and her compatriots, I was struck but not surprised to learn that activism surrounding a woman’s right to choose was spurred on and supported by a resolution adopted at the 1968 Unitarian Universalist General Assembly to repeal laws restricting or criminalizing abortion. UUs all over the U.S. and Canada acted on this resolution. In Michigan, for example, many women worked tirelessly circulating petitions and collecting signatures in the face of threats, verbal abuse and ostracism. Without a doubt, Unitarian Universalist efforts contributed to the right to choose when to bear children being upheld as a constitutional right of women in the United States of America.

If a resolution adopted at General Assembly can make such a contribution, I have no doubt in my mind that, with the inauguration of a new administration and a new day dawning in Washinton, our voices as people of faith can and will be heard. As the new Legislative Assistant for Women’s Issues at the Washington Office for Advocacy I am grateful to those who have worked for justice before me. Together we can have faith that we can help to change the laws of our country so that they reflect our values to uphold the inherent worth and dignity of every human being. I can have faith that I will see such changes not in some far-off dreamed future, but in the next year or two. I draw joy and strength and courage from that faith.

While celebrating and anticipating successes, however, I remain cautious, and I feel compelled to point out that Roe v Wade still needs our support and protection on all fronts. In most states, access to abortion is still restricted by mandates for parental notification and/or consent. In many states, women can barely seek information about abortion due to legal bans on counseling, biased counseling, and mandatory delays for abortion care. In all but the three states of Alabama, New Hampshire, and Vermont, health care providers can refuse care entirely to a woman seeking an abortion (see naral.org). These barriers to access continue to disproportionately affect poor women and women of color who have long struggled not only to gain access to quality and affordable health care but to be allowed to make informed choices about their own fertility. A woman living in a rural, northern county of my home state of Wisconsin would probably have to pay for her own abortion as well as travel for 6 to 8 hours, if she had access to a car and could drive, in order to reach a clinic that would perform the procedure.

In short, we still have a lot of work to do. True reproductive justice means that our societies protect girls and women from rape and sexual assault by teaching all children and adults that each person the right to make decisions about the sacred boundaries of their bodies. Reproductive justice means that no woman anywhere in the world is forced or coerced into bearing children when she does not choose to do so. Reproductive justice means that all women have access to safe and legal means of birth control and accurate information about possible side-effects and how to use them. Reproductive justice means that women and men undergo medical procedures that may affect their ability to have children only after giving their full and informed consent. Reproductive justice means that poor women and women of color are not denied or restricted from accessing any form of reproductive health care, nor from making an informed decision about any medication or procedure.

Access to safe, legal, confidential and affordable abortion is a right and a milestone along to path to achieving Reproductive Justice for all. I am proud to be part of an organization that has been working to this end for over 40 years, and I hope to do my best to continue in the footsteps of those who have walked this path before me.