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Women’s Health Under Attack

March 20, 2010

With the healthcare reform debate coming to a head this weekend, a group of women gathered in Grand Rapids earlier this week to discuss one of their major contention points in the current healthcare system: women’s health.

The panel discussion, put on by the Progressive Women’s Alliance, featured speakers Gayla Jewell of the Grand Rapids Medical Education and Research Center; Kary Moss, Executive Director, ACLU of Michigan; Sarah Scranton, Executive Director, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan; and State Senator Gretchen Whitmer (23rd District).

While most people think of women’s health revolving around the so-called “pro-choice vs pro-life” debate, the speakers touched on other problems women are facing in the current healthcare system.

Right here in Grand Rapids, the problems are rampant. Gayla Jewell believes that “we’re a microcosm of what’s happening nationally. We have segregated healthcare, we’ve rationed healthcare. Healthcare is not readily available to people.” She went on to say that in Kent County alone the infant mortality rate for black children is 2 to 3 times higher than for white children. Most of the women that need medical attention and cannot afford it are minority women in need of government assistance for health insurance, like Medicaid.

Jewell pulled information about Medicaid from the internet, saying it was barely decipherable to her with high-level English, let alone to those who do not understand the language well. “If you don’t understand it, how can you go get it? So having things in a way that all women can understand is vitally important.”

Even with Medicaid, that does not guarantee access to medical care. Jewell went on to say that only 22% of healthcare providers accept Medicaid, and they only choose so many to see so they can get reimbursed. While relating a story about a pregnant college student who received Medicaid, Jewell said the girl called every provider on the approved list and was told by all of them they could see her in 6 months.

With a more national perspective, Kary Moss of the ACLU of Michigan began by saying over 17 million women nationwide are without healthcare, which she says is a major issue considering women are 40% more likely to be on prescription drugs than men and often have a lower income than men.

Her list of requirements for healthcare reform include, among other things: increased research funding, promoting reproductive health and rights, being “pro-choice”, increased availability of birth control, and comprehensive sex education including an end to abstinence only programs. While she admits the current healthcare bill is far from including her wish list, it may open the door to dealing with these issues.

And that was the common thread throughout the speeches of these women: the current healthcare bill leaves much to be desired in terms of women’s health equality but this may just be a launching pad to change.

This is change that Sarah Scranton of Planned Parenthood has begun to see in the Michigan legislature. In 2008 it was the first time in a decade that the majority of the Democratic caucus were “pro-choice”, along with a “pro-choice” Governor Granholm. With elections this year, that may very likely change. Scranton said Michigan is often used as a testing ground for the “anti-choice” movement to find out how to pass such measures in other states.

The controversial Planned Parenthood lobbies mainly for “pro-choice” issues, including the Prevention First Initiative, which says it seeks to decrease unwanted pregnancies to avoid abortions.

The term “pro-choice” is saturated with political undertones and morality issues, just as the term “pro-life” is.

Jewell, however, wanted to make her stance clear: “I am pro-choice, I am not pro-abortion. I would like for there to be no need for abortion. The question is how do you create an environment that abortion is not necessary? That happens through choice, because the more choice women have, generally speaking the more responsible they become.”

This choice involves insurance coverage of contraceptives, access to emergency contraceptives (often known as “the morning after pill”), the right to safe, legal abortions, and sex education that is both abstinence and contraceptive based.

All this finicky abortion language comes on the heels of the Stupak Amendment, which was added to the House’s healthcare bill to be voted on in the next few days. The language in this amendment has many “pro-choice” people upset, though recent news suggests it may not be included in the Senate version of the bill. If it is not, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Michigan) says he has other Democrats who will vote against the healthcare reform bill with him, which may very well stop the healthcare bill in its tracks. The women speakers urged those in attendance to really push their representatives to vote for the bill, so that change, of any kind, can begin to take place.

There were no “anti-abortion” advocates present on the panel discussion put on by Progressive Women’s Alliance.

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