President Barack Obama’s address to Congress and the people of the United States resonates at a time when people are fed up with the health care status quo because it is not working. The National Organization for Women is pleased President Obama mentioned the need for a public option to provide health care to those not currently served by the profit-driven private insurance industry.
As activists, we also acknowledge that the steps he outlined fall short of a guarantee of comprehensive health care for all, including the full range of reproductive health services required to ensure equality for women. We must assert our human rights as the debates continue.
Women do need consumer protection against abuses by health insurers, particularly against so-called pre-existing conditions, which so often and outrageously have been applied to exclude pregnancy and maternal care.
Women also need expanded availability of insurance coverage. We have been traditionally underserved by employer-based health insurance because we are disproportionately represented in part-time paying jobs, often because of the vital yet unpaid and under-acknowledged caregiving services we provide for our families and country. Even when we work full-time, we are more often segregated into “pink collar” minimum-wage and non-union jobs — that is, jobs that don’t offer health care benefits.
Women also need health care costs to be reined in. Though we tend to be healthier than men, we often pay more for insurance premiums than men — blatant sex discrimination — a practice that must end immediately. In addition, we bear the brunt of skyrocketing drug costs, including birth control pills that are covered at the whims of profit-driven private health insurance companies.
NOW has long argued that single-payer health care is the best way to achieve the goal of universal, comprehensive and affordable care for everyone. We believe single-payer will give doctors and patients, not the government and not a profit-driven industry, the power to choose the best medical care for each patient. At minimum, any health care reform package must contain a strong public option, while also allowing states to create their own single-payer plans.
The health care debate has not been civil, and a member of Congress screaming at President Obama during his address last night served as a jarring reminder of that. It is with respect for the president’s efforts to improve health care access that we must sound this alarm for women: We must hold our legislators accountable to ensuring the full range of reproductive services are a part of any health care plan. We will not tolerate the use and abuse of women’s health care needs to achieve other political ends. Marginalizing women’s health care marginalizes women as a class.
For far too long, family planning, pregnancy care and abortion have been marginalized as something “other” than basic health care, which NOW believes implicitly contributes to right-wing demonizing of abortion providers. Legislators continue to ban federal health care dollars from abortion, which directly opposes the will of the majority of the public that believes that abortion services should be covered in any health insurance reform plan.
Many nations recognize that providing coverage for abortion in health insurance, whether public or private, demonstrates that this kind of care is no different from any other health care service that women and men need to receive. Here in the United States, the public recognizes this as well. This should be the view that Congress embraces in the effort to pass health care reform. NOW calls upon legislators to remove all provisions in proposed legislation that would limit women’s access to reproductive health care — the voices insisting upon exclusion of abortion services will not vote for meaningful reform anyway, a reality many legislators have been reluctant to face.
NOW categorically rejects President Obama’s promise to retain current “conscience refusal” laws, as stated last night. So-called conscience exemptions or refusals that allow health care providers — physicians, nurses, clinics, pharmacies hospitals and even profit-driven insurance companies — to refuse to provide any service that they claim offends their personal beliefs are untenable. Every woman in this country has a fundamental human right to the full range of reproductive health services, including a constitutional right to choose abortion.
In the final days of the George W. Bush administration, a sweeping “provider conscience” rule was adopted that has the potential to limit services for birth control, HIV/AIDS, abortion, sterilization and just about any procedure that an individual or entity opposes. The Obama administration began the regulatory change process in March to rescind this rule, and NOW calls upon the Obama administration to finish that job.