By Meghan Feeks
With the endless stream of bad news for women’s health and reproductive rights these days, it’s easy to feel like you accidentally stumbled onto the set of The Handmaid’s Tale.
Starting with the reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule during President Trump’s first week in office — and continuing through the creation of a Religious Liberty Task Force just last week — the current administration has been waging an all-out assault on women’s health that is making it more and more difficult for women both in the US and abroad to obtain vital health services and exercise reproductive choice.
The religious rhetoric that often accompanies these anti-woman policies does nothing to dim visions of winged hats and red robes. But like the Republic of Gilead — the dystopic, fictional theocracy in which The Handmaid’s Tale is set — women’s health in the US didn’t reach its current state overnight. As we discussed at our latest DAUK Women’s Caucus (WC) meeting, women have a long history of being excluded from choices and conversations concerning their bodies. And with our country facing big decisions in the coming months that will have an outsize impact women’s health and rights — instantly, and for decades to come — the time to act is now.
Here are five things that all American women can do to take greater control of their healthcare and fight back against the Trump administration’s assault on women:
1. Block Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. The 1973 Supreme Court case Roe vs. Wade established a woman’s constitutional right to have an abortion, but according to Courtney Hagen, member of the WC Legislative Committee, it also established fierce opposition that has eroded the ruling throughout several Supreme Court cases since. Representing what could be the culmination of decades-long efforts to overturn the landmark decision, the appointment of the staunchly anti-choice Brett Kavanaugh could have immediate and irreversible consequences for women’s reproductive rights.
“Roe vs. Wade is in real danger with the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh,” she said. “Call your representatives to share your opinion before Kavanaugh’s hearing. Also familiarize yourself with your home state’s specific laws and regulations around abortion — some states have enacted ‘trigger laws’, which would immediately outlaw and criminalize abortions should Roe vs. Wade be overturned.”
To put your opposition to Kavanaugh in writing, visit stampslicked.com to send your Congress members a free, hand-delivered message.
To learn more about anti-choice measures in your state, check out NARAL’s handy guide here.
2. Support Planned Parenthood or NARAL. With the Trump administration promising to cut Title X funding from any organizations that provide or even so much as discuss abortions under the Domestic Gag Rule, Planned Parenthood needs your help now more than ever. Providing sexual and reproductive health services to 5 million women, men and children worldwide — only 3% of which are abortions — Planned Parenthood is also campaigning hard to stop the Domestic Gag Rule. NARAL, a pro-choice advocacy group, also needs support as it continues fighting tooth and nail to defend reproductive rights and keep Kavanaugh far from our country’s highest court. Remember, every penny counts.
To make a donation or take action through NARAL, click here.
3. Know the facts about women’s health, and be your own advocate. The medical establishment has a long history of bias against women that continues to affect their health outcomes today. Until this bias is addressed, it’s critical for women to be their own health advocates, emphasized Legislative Committee member Jessica Bruce.
“Our knowledge of women’s health issues is still very limited,” she said. “This is the result of research policies and practices that prevent researchers from disaggregating data by gender, a failure to believe women, and a continued gender gap in the medical profession. For example, it’s only in recent years that doctors have begun to recognize that common heart attack symptoms differ between men and women.
“This gap is most obvious when looking at reproductive health. The US has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world — and the only one that’s rising — with black women more than twice as likely as white women to die due to pregnancy-related complications.”
Marketa Young, also on the Legislative Committee, added that it’s important to consider the socioeconomic “superstructure” surrounding healthcare.
“It’s fine to say watch your diet and get your five a day, but if your water has lead poisoning — or your neighborhood has more liquor stores than grocery stores due to agricultural policy — it becomes more difficult for you at the individual level to be the best you can be.”
Compounding these biases, WC president Lan Wu noted that the tendency to see women as objects rather than subjects of medical study frequently results in women being doubted and excluded in discussions of their health.
“Insist that medical providers discuss issues directly with you instead of talking past you to a spouse, relatives or other providers,” she urged.
Heart disease is the number-one killer of women in the US, but symptoms in men and women differ. Know the facts.
Pregnancy discrimination is illegal, but it’s still rampant in the workplace. Know your rights.
4. Push for sustainable healthcare reform. The Trump administration’s deep cuts to Medicaid and promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) pose a particular threat to women and children, said WC member and retired nurse Elizabeth Crocker. Healthcare promises to be a lightning-rod issue in the 2018 midterms that could work in Democrats’ favor — but the key is to be smart about it, she stressed.
“We have to push for affordable, universal healthcare state-by-state and issue-by-issue,” she said. If we attempt to tackle all the problems at once, the boondoggle curse of the ACA, we will continue to be frustrated and disappointed.”
To hear more from this no-nonsense nurse on smart approaches to healthcare reform, click here.
5. Elect more women to office. Medicine is just one of arenas where women and women’s interests are underrepresented. With men currently outnumbering women in Congress 4-to-1, the midterms represent a golden opportunity to elect more women to office. Research shows women politicians push much harder for policies that support women and children or address issues like healthcare, education poverty and civil rights.
A record number of women are running for office this year, but many still face tough odds in their races and need all the support and votes they can get.
For a comprehensive overview of women candidates and where they stand on healthcare and other key issues, check out DA Germany member Charlotte Milstein’s spreadsheets here.
To view the Legislative Committee’s presentations on women’s health, click here.