Month of Activism: Reproductive Rights and Healthcare

      In the era of the Trump administration, healthcare and reproductive rights have become one of the most divisive issues for the American public. In the past year, healthcare policy reforms and attempts to diminish reproductive rights have dominated the agenda of the Republican Party. Sara Rosenbaum, JD, a Health Law and Policy professor at the George Washington University, says, “You’re looking for solutions that move us on solidarity fronts, but without being harmful to others, and it’s very hard to come up with answers that make sense for everybody. We’re talking about something that’s extraordinarily personal, and the notion that you should not get the healthcare you need when you need it is very hard.”  From the numerous attempts to slash healthcare coverage, and reproductive rights, from millions across the nation, it’s clear that one of the commitments of the Trump administration is to dismantle the progressive policies put in place to assist poor and marginalized people.

      In March of 2017, Republican representatives introduced a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act mandates health insurance for Americans, provides subsidies for middle class families, and broadens Medicaid protections for lower class families, overall providing opportunities for previously unavailable healthcare coverage. After months of debate, revision, opposition, and speculation, the bill died in July 2017. However, in September, another version of a repeal-and-replace in a last-ditch effort to reform health policy was introduced. A little over two weeks later, the Graham-Cassidy bill died as well, and efforts to dismantle Obamacare were temporarily suspended, saving millions of people from losing healthcare.

       A crucial provision of the repeal-and-replace bills that were introduced included the removal of federal funds for Planned Parenthood. Funding for Planned Parenthood comes from taxpayer money and reimbursements from federal programs (like Medicaid), and provides opportunities for cancer screenings, family planning, contraception, abortions, and numerous other services. Cuts to funding for Planned Parenthood would leave millions of men, women, and children without accessible, affordable, preventative healthcare. For low-income women, access to Planned Parenthood is vital to staying safe and healthy, and taking that away would be devastating to those who rely on its services. In a conversation with pre-med students Elizabeth Mattison and Fatima Tourk, they disclosed  “Not taking reproductive health into consideration is a balant attack on women in general. Women are the ones who get pregnant and deal with the repercussions first hand, but also reproductive health affects so many other basic life functions. It should be treated and insured like other health needs.”

         More recently, in October 2017, the Trump administration announced that legislation was passed to roll back federal mandates for employer insurance coverage for birth control. The contraceptive cost mandate was made possible under the Obama administration through the ACA. The provision removed cost as a barrier to access to contraceptives, thus making birth control accessible especially for poor and disadvantaged women through employment. Recent changes to the contraceptive cost mandate moved to allow employers to prevent insurance coverage for birth control for women on the basis of personal, moral objection or religious beliefs. Professor Rosenbaum commented, “This affects lower income women more... If you’re a woman for whom the day to day cost of living is much more of a struggle, then losing a thousand dollars a year of benefits is a real problem.” All of these attempts to dismantle affordable and accessible healthcare gave way to a quieter, less publicized shift in healthcare rights earlier this month. On January 11, 2018, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, with guidance from the Trump Administration, issued a letter requiring people to be employed or actively seeking employment in order to receive Medicaid benefits. For the first time since the program has been in effect, there is now a significant barrier preventing poor, unemployed Americans from receiving the affordable healthcare that Medicaid provides. The policy is an attack on underprivileged citizens, and extremely harmful to Americans who are unemployed and rely on Medicaid. An interview with GW student Esther Kim proved just how crucial having consistent insurance is. “As a student on Medicaid, I have to stay up to date with all the changes in healthcare. The current administration is making it really hard for me to even know if I am insured or what steps I need to take simply just to have healthcare.”

       The time to stand up is now. Adequate, affordable healthcare is not a privilege, and reproductive rights should not up for debate. Remaining complacent while the safety and health of millions of fellow American citizens are being threatened is no longer an option. Professor Carly Jordan, a professor in the Women’s Leadership Program asserts that “There are not enough women speaking out about these things or contacting their representatives to address these issues. Representatives aren’t going to listen to anyone unless they are getting large numbers of calls and letters,” proving that it is up to the American public to make their voices heard and rally around issues they care about. Stand in solidarity with those who are at risk of losing protection for conditions they cannot control, with women who deserve the ability to have power over their own bodies, and with everyone who could be affected by an administration opposed to providing help to people who need it.

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Article written by: Caroline Zonts and Erin Cieraszynski