Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wars Against Women's Rights -- Why?

If you are a woman, you must be as I am, spinning around as you are trying to keep up with the latest volleys in the cultural wars against women seen in this primary season, especially from the right. From Mitt Romney speaking out against Planned Parenthood (an organization which has been helping women for almost 100 years), to Rick Santorum decrying the use of contraception, it seems as if we are suddenly in a time warp, back to the days before diaphragms, birth control and a woman's right to choose. The discussion about expanded contraception coverage seemed to explode when most had thought this was a settled question.

From statehouse to statehouse in the Republican legislatures elected by the Tea Party zealots, a new battle is being waged, but not on the financial front as might have been expected, but rather about the reality of a woman having control of her own reproductive rights. From threatening a woman's ability to obtain prescribed contraception medication, determination of medical choices for abortion privately without coercive propaganda or avoiding intrusive unnecessary procedures, various legislative bodies have felt it their business to avoid other pressing economic matters and insert the need of the state to speak to these concerns. Not only has the state, in some instances, required the invasive trans-vaginal ultrasound procedure prior to elective abortions, it also requires the patient to pay for the test. One state has even required physicians to tell women seeking abortions that the procedure causes breast cancer -- a despicable statement which has been roundly disproven by multiple research studies. Medical societies are now asking about their liability when their members are required by law to lie to their patients.

In Virginia, which is fighting the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act before the Supreme Court, claiming that government cannot compel a person to purchase insurance coverage, there is apparently no contradiction seen when women are required to pay for the ultrasound procedure. When a test is done, which is not seen as medically necessary, medical insurance is not required to pay for it. Can someone explain the difference between these two positions? The Republican Party claims to want less government involvement in everyday life. Does it really mean only in the everyday lives of men?

Then we come to the words of radio host Rush Limbaugh and the verbal assaults he made on a Georgetown University Law student who had been invited to testify about birth control and was refused by Committee Chair Darryl Issa in favor of an all male panel. She had planned to talk about the needs of women who use Birth Control Pills (BCP) for medical reasons not pertaining to contraception. She spoke instead to media outlets in a very respectful and thoughtful discussion of the costs for these BCP medications and the need for insurance coverage. As a consequence, she was repeatedly and savagely attacked over several days in the coarsest terms, (“slut” being the mildest phrase used by the crude radio host). However none of the Republican Presidential candidates have had the moral strength to speak against these remarks. Maureen Dowd has described this well.

Fortunately, there has been a backlash as advertisers have deserted his show almost universally, for a while at least. Will this blow over. Is this a tempest in a teapot? I do not think so, as everywhere I travel, women are reeling from such descriptions. They are wondering why such savagery not only erupted, but why was it not rebutted by these candidates who trumpet their religiosity? Conversely, President Obama called the student, Sandra Fluke, and apologized for the abuse she had taken while trying to promote a noble cause. He mentioned that he would not want his daughters treated in this manner, and indeed, no woman should be subjected to such public conversations. Other media hosts have been taken permanently off the air for less. Clear Channel should follow suit.

Public opinion polls have indicated that more than 95% of American women either use or have used BCP at some point during their reproductive lives. Annually, in the U.S. there are more than four million live births -- about 10% of these are born to teen-aged mothers. About 41% are born to unmarried mothers. The largest numbers of teen births are found in the southern states and lower midwestern states. (Reference citation).

Planned Parenthood makes available low cost contraception to its clients. In fact, these services far exceed their terminations of pregnancies. They are the largest providers solely because they are the only national organization with presence in many states. Onerous laws, harassment and intimidation have driven solo providers out of many states even though abortion has been legal in the US since 1973 as decided by a Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. Currently 88% of the counties in the U.S. do not have abortion services easily available. Ninety-seven percent of areas outside urban centers have no easy access. (Reference citation).

Yet many young women endure great hardship to obtain access to services. No one, (to my knowledge) is claiming that these four million women became pregnant by themselves, so why is there this dysfunctional attitude toward contraception and abortion? In hard times, adding another member to a family is often difficult. Isn’t contraception a responsible solution? Access to inexpensive contraception lessens the need for abortion services, so why is there such a disconnect here? Why is the woman being treated as if she were a solo player in this process? As a nurse, I believe that a woman should be able to have access to the health care which she deems necessary and not be damned for her legal choices by predominantly male elected officials. Generations ago, some states forcibly sterilized some mentally ill and developmentally disabled adults that today is seen as abhorrent. Have we learned nothing since then?

I urge women everywhere to speak up and speak out, for if we do not protect our rights and those of our daughters, there appear to be few who will do it for us.