Why is There a War on Women’s Healthcare?

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This is a guest post by Jennifer Keenan, Defend Oregon Outreach Coordinator

About ten years ago, I was sitting at a bargaining table about to convince my employer why it was necessary to provide birth control coverage under our current health plan. With an early 20s bravado, I squared my shoulders, looked directly at the management team and said, “If you’re going to cover Viagra then you’re going to cover birth control. It would be sexist to do anything less.”

Eloquent? Articulate? Maybe not, but it got the point across and we got the coverage for the women on staff (about 85% of the workforce.) It helped that one of the senior managers was a woman and an experienced healthcare leader. I thought it could only get better.

I’m now finding myself completely befuddled. Over the last couple of years, we’ve been inundated with archaic ideas on birth control, an onslaught of attacks on women’s healthcare providers such as Planned Parenthood, and a direct threat to a women’s right to choose. It’s become common place to hear about Congress rolling back access, conservative presidential candidates stumping on how they’ll squash abortion providers, Rush Limbaugh calling a birth control advocate a “slut,” stunts like Susan Komen Foundation pulling funding from Planned Parenthood, and our current administration under fire for protecting a women’s right to comprehensive healthcare.

Why are we having these conversations?

Here are some thoughts:

1. A small percentage of people who have a disproportionate amount of influence hold idealistic views not based on reality or practicality

2. Many of those in power are not actually women and do not feel directly impacted by women’s healthcare issues

3. Some leaders don’t trust women to be competent enough to make ethical decisions regarding her own health with her family, physician, and/or faith.

Sound crazy? It’s not. Commence googling of medical journals, research, and scads of public health data about expanding comprehensive access to women’s healthcare. It’s pretty hard to make rational arguments for the current happenings amidst the data.

The long and short of what needs to happen includes: supporters should continue to speak out in the media and in their communities; minds must shift away from viewing “women’s healthcare” as optional and weighed against ideals that should be individual choices not societal mandate; and we must act in a concerted manner to encourage women and trustworthy advocates for women’s health to move into positions of power.

For a great example of this last point, check out this interview with Cecile Richards on The Daily Show from March 7, 2012:

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