Why should we focus on women’s health right now? Is women's health under attack?
Women, particularly women of color and poor women, have regularly faced government intrusion in their health care and family planning decisions. Recently, the Right has ramped up its attacks and extended them to health providers and services used by all women. According to plannedparenthoodaction.org, “More than 1,000 provisions related to women’s health were introduced in states over the last two years, and 257 of them became laws, the vast majority of which interfere with women’s health.” These provisions include conferring full constitutional rights on a fertilized egg or unconstitutionally banning abortion after six weeks. In 2012, 48 U.S. Senators voted to allow religiously affiliated (not just religious) institutions to refuse to cover contraception to insured employees, as the Affordable Care Act requires. These are all attacks on women’s health and furthermore, women’s reproductive freedom.
Women’s right to make decisions about their reproductive health are important not only because they affect more than half the world’s population. They are important because conservatives, historically and now, envision a society in which male dominance and heterosexuality are the norm and women do not control their own bodies. This worldview ultimately threatens liberation and equality.
What is health?
The World Health Organization defines health as “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Unfortunately, debates about women’s reproductive health in the U.S. often center on morality rather than the actual goal of promoting health.
How does the U.S. compare with other countries on measures of women’s reproductive health?
We look bad compared to other countries. U.S. women’s life expectancy is only 32nd in the world – not surprising when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 2010 Health Statistics for the U.S. reports that 13.5% of U.S. women 18 or older are in poor or fair health, and that 16% of women under the age of 65 are without health insurance. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we rank 30th in the world in infant mortality, right after Slovakia. Unlike most other rich countries, the U.S. does not mandate any paid maternity, much less paternity, leave. Even for unpaid leave, we are last among rich countries. According to the 2013 CDC survey, 99% of all women in the U.S. aged 15 to 44 who have ever had sexual intercourse have used some kind of birth control. Married women are more likely to use contraceptives than are non-married women. The U.S. is not unique in the widespread use of contraception. Even heavily Catholic countries report similar rates of contraceptive use.
How does the Right view women’s reproductive rights and health care?
The Right is generally against any public assistance or subsidies for birth control. But now right-wing politicians are trying to impose their moral beliefs on the ability of all of us to make our own decisions even about private health insurance. They also are against abortion or are in favor of severe restrictions on abortion access, including legal barriers and economic ones such as preventing public funding of abortion. For women with children, they are unsupportive of subsidizing childcare or public assistance programs.
Even if birth control is available, a woman faces a serious economic burden in paying for it. According to the Center for American Progress, without insurance and including costs of seeing a doctor, the total cost of birth control in one calendar year can range between $590 and $1200. If a woman becomes pregnant, it is very difficult for her to get an abortion, but it is also expensive to have proper prenatal care if she decides to carry the pregnancy to term. Once a woman has children, she had better have a good job or a supportive partner, because raising a child, not to mention getting childcare, is expensive.
Why does the Right oppose reproductive freedom?
The Right tries to support their attacks on women’s health in terms of sexual morality. However, the real agenda is an attack on gender equality, on the ability of women to control their lives and to make their own decisions about when, or if, to bear children. Refusing to fund programs that address health needs of women, especially poor women, represents a massive attack from the Right on gender and socioeconomic equality, an attack aided and abetted by the Right’s rhetoric condemning women’s sexuality and defining the only acceptable family unit as a married man and woman.
Why are U.S. policies so backward?
Because the neoliberal capitalist ideology promotes a competitive economic framework that relies on the individual rather than on social cooperation, the U.S. spends more than any other country on healthcare but has some of the worst health outcomes and one of the most inefficient heath systems. The extensive role of the private health insurance industry means that those with the money to pay for healthcare can get it. But many people, especially women, cannot afford care or face cultural or linguistic barriers to accessing it. Meanwhile, the Right obsesses about the fact that more women are having children out of wedlock. But in an economy creating only one job for every four job seekers, it makes sense for mothers to choose autonomy over marriages that might offer few economic benefits.
What is reproductive justice?
Socialist feminists know that women deserve free abortion on demand, a full range of reproductive health care and family services and an economic system that offers full employment and compensation for caregiving of the elderly and young. "Reproductive justice" is a concept that moves beyond the notions of "choice" and "rights." It links the calls for reproductive choice (a woman's right to control her own body) to the broader issues of economic justice and human rights (creating conditions that enable people to have children, not only to not have them).
DSA believes that the key to individuals’ abilities to reach their potential resides in their equality in society. It is vitally important for socialists to support all women’s health and anti-poverty initiatives, especially those that address the needs of poor women and women of color. Since sexuality is for most people an important facet of their lives, guaranteeing sexual health remains an essential part of guaranteeing overall health and quality of life
Women need the ability to plan their families on their own terms, or in conjunction with their partner. We, as a society, need an increased sense of solidarity to promote the type of political climate that allows individuals to live according to their needs and wants. The biggest threat to women’s health comes from the callous disregard for those with whom a person does not have a direct relationship. Without solidarity, we are endangering the lives of women – and their potential and actual children.