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A few weeks ago I had the great opportunity to conduct a Skype interview with a very special group of women in Santiago, Chile. These women are volunteers with “Lesbians and Feminists for the Right to Information” (Lesbianas y Feministas por el Derecho a la Información), a group that runs the Chilean Safe Abortion Hotline to provide basic information about misoprostol-based drugs to women in the throes of an illegal medical abortion.
The hotline, which is open 365 days a year from 7 to 11 p.m., has received more than 10,000 calls since its launch in 2009. The volunteers take up to 15 calls a day, and that amount tends to go up whenever they get press; more often than not though, the press is negative. Chile is a fairly socially conservative country, where abortion is entirely illegal; yet, it has one of the highest rates of abortion in Latin America. The volunteers at the hotline cannot ask any personal questions, so they don’t often know the age or any specifics about the women calling. Their main objective is not to fight for legal abortion access—although they hope for that in the future—but to empower women and meet their demand for information in a culture imbued with reactionary views on abortion.
Emily Anne, a Michigan native, who originally came to Chile in 2007 as an exchange student, helped me with the following interview and translated answers on behalf of her fellow volunteers, Carolina Evelyn, Ines, and Angela Erpel. Thank you all.
Can you explain a little about what the Chilean Safe Abortion Hotline does?
Emily: The only information we offer is on misoprostol use, up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. There are other medication abortion methods, like mifepristone, but that’s not available in Chile. If you go to somewhere like Planned Parenthood, they use a combination of the two medications, but here the only medication women can get access to is misoprostol. It used to be available in pharmacies, but during the last president’s government, it was pulled from pharmacies. Before, women just had to get a prescription somehow and could buy them at pharmacies, now they can’t even do that, they have to buy them on the black market.
Is just using misoprostol pretty effective?
Emily: Misoprostol alone is about 84-90% effective; when it’s used with mifepristone—which is how it’s used in the U.S.—it’s 97% effective. So the mifepristone-misoprostol combination is preferred, but where it’s not available, misoprostol alone is an acceptable option.
Who generally calls the hotline?
Emily: We only answer calls from women. A man calling could be trying to talk her out of [an abortion] or force her into it, so we want to talk to the women directly, so as not to pressure them into something they don’t want to do. Also, we feel that it’s important for this information to reach women directly, without having to pass through a third person. If we had to guess, most of our callers are college students or women with several kids already. They often start to justify their reasons: “I’m a student;” “I already have a child and can’t afford another;” “I’m not in a relationship.”
Tell me about the legality of the hotline.
Angela: The hotline is legal because we don’t actually sell the pills. We have nothing to do with the pills themselves. What we do is just offer information. Everything we say is in the third person. We can’t say anything using “you” because that would be considered inciting the crime of abortion, and we can’t ask any questions, but as long as we don’t do either of those things, we can give as much information as we like, particularly because this information is public. It’s available on lots of different health websites; it’s available from the World Health Organization, so all we do is provide access to that information.
Do you ever encounter a fake caller trying to catch you saying something wrong?
Emily: We do know that journalists have called, pretending to be women looking for information, but the thing is, we have a protocol. It’s not really a big worry to us—we just have to stick to the script. If a journalist or the police call the hotline, we’d answer the same way we always do when any other person calls. We are pretty sure that [the line] is bugged. We have gotten those calls from journalists, which we later found out about of course because we saw it on the news, but it hasn’t been a big problem. We have had police investigations opened on the hotline three times, usually because there is some right-wing group that’s trying to shut us down, but they have always been dismissed. Interestingly, the Woman’s Ministry opened up a woman’s health hotline that we, of course, called. Their hotline is named “Women and Maternity: Committed to Life.” One of the women from [the city of] Iquique called, pretending to be like a teenager that was pregnant, and of course this hotline is to convince women to keep the baby, or give it up for adoption. So they do have that.
Angela: At the very beginning of the hotline, [the volunteers] went with people who would protect them when they would go to protests and public events, fearing that they would be harassed. They went thinking that there was going to be a lot of resistance about this topic because Chile is a pretty conservative country in a lot of ways, but the exact opposite happened. People would come up to them and thank them, especially women who were older. Which makes sense because those were the women who for years and years were forced to have illegal surgical abortions, a lot of women died obviously. So we’ve had a really good response from the public.
How does it feel personally, working under these circumstances?
Ines: On one hand, you feel really good about it, because you’re really helping someone who called, but on the other hand, it is really frustrating not to be able to give certain information. So there are limits on what we can do. For legal reasons, we can’t do anything about that, we can’t tell a woman how to get the pills, we can’t do anything about the social side of it, and we can’t counsel the woman or anything like that.
Angela: Sometimes it’s frustrating because the biggest reason they call is looking for the pills, and of course we can’t help them with that. The hotline only works four hours a day, usually from 7 to 11 at night, and during the day when the phone is turned off, we get a ton of phone calls, we get a lot of text messages, so that gives us an idea of what the demand is, how many women really need this information. And when we’re actually talking to them, it becomes really clear how many myths and how much misinformation there is about this topic—especially about the correct dose of the drug. Women need 12 pills, but they’re often sold in a pack of 4 on the black market.
Carolina: One of the great things is that some will contact us again after they’ve been able to have the abortion, so they’ll write us an email, or they will call the hotline again, or will come up to us when we go to protests or events, and thank us and ask how they can help us, so that’s nice because it makes you feel like you’ve really made an impact.
Emily Anne: It’s really great because unlike a lot of other projects to be a part of, this is something where you feel like you’re really having a direct impact on women’s lives. It’s something they really need, and we have our limits, but the information we give could really help them resolve this very specific and very important problem that they have, and that is really great.
If you could impart any knowledge to societies trying to do away with legal abortion, what would it be?
Emily: Of course it would be much better for abortion to be legal in Chile, but with misoprostol, women don’t have to find an abortion provider—who may or may not know what they’re doing—and they don’t have to depend on the government for access. And I can add to that maybe… people in the states often think that our rights are getting taken away in a legal sense, that we are going back to a pre-Roe v. Wade era, but that’s not actually true, because if Roe v. Wade is overturned it will be very different from how it was 40 years ago. Misoprostol is a drug we have access to only in the last 25 years. And now, as is happening in the U.S., as abortion clinics close, and access is becoming more and more restricted, that doesn’t mean that we will go back to an era where a lot of women were dying. We have this new medication that allows women to take charge of their abortion themselves.
Ines: One of the things we think is that a lot of times policies are patriarchal. If the policymakers are patriarchal, then the policies will be too.
Emily: They’re made by your typical conservative, white, straight, male.
Ines: So it’s hard for people to actually participate in political processes. In that case, women need to know how to have abortions by themselves and be able to take control of their own bodies.
Angela: Women and their bodies are victims of masculine public policy. And if politics in developed countries are moving backwards, then politicians in Chile are going to take advantage of that. They’ll say, well, that didn’t work in the U.S., so there is no reason for us to do it here. And politicians here like to pretend that abortion doesn’t exist! Right wing politicians specifically said that “therapeutic abortion”—abortion in cases of danger to the woman’s health, fetal deformity or rape—is not medically necessary.
Emily: What Ines was saying earlier was that we think public policies are often patriarchal. And economic issues will always be more important than social issues, especially when it comes to women’s rights. In Chile there’s not a lot of room for social movements to participate in public policy making. That doesn’t really leave us any other choice than to try and organize ourselves.
Do you think making abortion illegal has any lasting benefits?
Angela: A lot of times when the abortion movement concentrates its efforts on legalizing abortion, it misses out on other aspects. You have the actual laws, you have decriminalization of abortion, but you also have social criminalization of abortion. In Chile, there is so much stigma surrounding abortion.
Emily: It is not something people ever talk about, much more so than in the U.S. So, even if abortion were legal, there would still be this strong stigma about it. And even if abortion were legal, as we’ve seen in the U.S., it doesn’t actually guarantee access to abortion.
Emily: A lot of women who have abortions don’t feel that they can ever talk about it, because it’s so taboo. They spend their whole lives listening to people talk negatively about abortion. All that probably will have effects on your mental health, not the abortion itself, but the social context that surrounds it. Not having social support from friends and family can make the experience difficult. If women don’t have the right information about what the abortion itself will be like, the experience will also be very stressful. They’ll be worrying about how much they’re bleeding, if it’s normal, if they’ll have to go to a hospital. On the other hand, we’ve heard from women that did have the social support and did have the information they need, and for them, the experience can be empowering. They own the experience. Having to go through all of this in secret also makes it very clear to them what their position is, as a woman in Chilean society.
Carolina: The laws are created by the patriarchy. So for us, it’s not as important to focus on the law itself.
Why is there such a strong stigma around abortion (specifically in Chile)?
Emily: Chile is a very religious country; traditionally, it’s Catholic, but in recent years evangelical Christians of various sects have appeared. I think that abortion is hidden from public view in part because of Chile’s low maternal mortality rate. In other countries where abortion is illegal, there are a lot of deaths due to unsafe abortion. So it’s more likely that people will have personally lost someone due to abortion, and it’s an issue that does appear on the news. But because women in Chile often use misoprostol—which is significantly less dangerous than a back alley surgical abortion because there’s no need for sterile conditions, and they have access to post abortion care—very few Chilean women die because of abortion. News on abortion is very sensationalized and usually portrays abortion as murder; some schools will show anti-abortion videos in class. So people grow up with the idea that abortion is wrong.
Any closing thoughts you care to share?
Ines: We are really happy to be interviewed, because usually when people do reports or articles on abortions in Chile, they don’t talk about the hotline, and that has to do with our relationship with the feminist movement. How do I put this? I think a lot of people see our work as less political, because we work directly with women, we don’t work with legislators or the Ministry of Health or anything like that, but to us, our political work is based on working directly with women and sharing information with women, permitting them to have control over their own bodies.
Emily: We feel a lot of times that other organizations within the feminist movement don’t value our work, or perhaps it’s not that they don’t value it, but are afraid to be associated with it, because abortion is illegal, and abortion activists have gone to jail in the past.
Angela: The media don’t see our work as being a priority either. Sometimes there will be an article in Chile published on abortion, even on misoprostol abortion, and there won’t be any mention of the hotline. It’s often the media outside of Chile that pays more attention to us.
Carolina: Our work is directly with women. We are interested in this for ourselves as women, supporting other women. Our priority isn’t legalizing abortion, rather sharing solidarity with women.
The hotline’s number: +56 9 8918590
If you’d like to learn more about the Chilean Safe Abortion Hotline, you can read Emily Anne’s blog post HERE.
- Article: “An Overview of Clandestine Abortion in Latin America”
- Ipas article: “Medical Abortion in Latin America“
- Planned Parenthood Fact Sheet: The Difference between the Morning-After Pill and the Abortion Pill
- Article: “Abortion Policies and Practices in Chile: Ambiguities and Dilemmas”
- WHO Safe Abortion Guidelines
- Lesbians and Feminists for the Right to Information
- Women on Waves (Dutch NGO that provides abortions via telemedicine to women living in countries where abortion is illegal)
- International Consortium for Medical Abortion
Majority Leader Paul Stam calls for anti-abortion propaganda to be taught in NC schools
Republican House Majority Leader Paul Stam wasted no time in making clear that his anti-abortion crusade will be central to the GOP’s agenda in 2013. Yesterday, working behind the scenes, Stam accomplished a goal that has long eluded him. He got information biased against abortion included in a recommendation to come out of the Perinatal Legislative Committee—a recommendation expected to become legislation in 2013.
Yesterday’s Perinatal Legislative Committee took up the issue of pre-term deliveries, a leading cause of infant mortality. Stam and his allies requested that information linking abortion to pre-term deliveries be included in North Carolina’s high school healthy living curriculum—despite the fact that trusted medical experts, including the American Medical Association, the American Pediatric Society and the CDC, do not recognize a correlation between abortion and pre-term deliveries.
“Stam is opposed to safe and legal abortion and will use any opportunity he has to push his single-minded agenda,” said Melissa Reed, VP of Public Policy for Planned Parenthood Heath Systems.
Intent on singling out abortion, Stam and his allies initially ignored factors well established as leading causes of pre-term deliveries such as poverty, lack of health insurance and obesity. Committee members, pointing out this omission, added these medically recognized factors to the final recommendation.
“Instead of focusing on real maternal health needs, Stam prefers shaming women for making deeply personal health decisions and stigmatizing a safe and legal medical procedure,” said Paige Johnson, VP of External Affairs for Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina.
Election Day delivered Republicans a supermajority in both chambers of the legislature, clearing the path for legislators intent on pushing through an extreme agenda. What remains to be seen is whether or not governor-elect Pat McCrory will stand by his word and oppose efforts targeting women’s health. In the final gubernatorial debate, McCrory stated that he did not support additional restrictions on abortion, which no doubt helped him garner strong support from women.
After what seemed like an eternity of TV, radio, and print ads, sound bites, debates, Facebook posts, tweets, and poll after poll, last week America finally held an election.
A transcontinental sigh-of-relief could be heard at the landslide victory of President Barack Obama. Obama’s win was a critical and tremendous victory for women and women’s health.
“This is a resounding victory for women. More than ever before, women’s health was a decisive issue in this election. Americans today voted to ensure that women will have access to affordable health care and be able to make their own medical decisions,” ,” said Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
And it wasn’t only Obama who celebrated a win. Nationally, women made their voices heard. Ten out of thirteen Republican Senate candidates, who oppose abortion even in cases of rape, were defeated. That includes Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin who lost in Missouri to Claire McCaskill, and Richard “Rape Pregnancy is a Gift from God” Mourdock who lost in Indiana to Incumbent Richard Lugar.
Further, Maryland, Maine, and Washington voted to legalize gay marriage, while voters in Minnesota voted down an amendment to define marriage as being solely between a man and a woman. These are huge step towards marriage equality for all, and another enormous victory for the Country.
But here in North Carolina, many of us woke up last Wednesday morning feeling bitter-sweet. While we watched the news and saw Obama win on the major networks, we also watched our state races go one by one to politicians who are decidedly hostile to women’s health care and marriage equality.
Republican candidates captured the governor’s mansion with the election of Pat McCrory, and increased their margins in the General Assembly to 32-18 in the Senate and a dramatic 77-43 in the House. Additionally, Dan Forest beat out Linda Coleman in the race for Lieutenant Governor. Forest is the former chairman of the board of the Wake Forest Pregnancy Support Services, a crisis pregnancy center, and has been described as “…likely the most ideologically extreme statewide elected official in the modern era of North Carolina.”
So while most of the country was making great progressive strides, North Carolina faces a conservative super-majority that we have not seen in over a century.
What does this mean for our state?
It means that we will face some unprecedented challenges over the next legislative cycle. We anticipate legislation that will try to establish fetal personhood, remove insurance coverage for contraception, and place onerous regulations on abortion providers in order to shut them down.
It’s a scary time for Planned Parenthood and for all women in North Carolina right now, but we do have one silver lining: you.
In this past election volunteers for Planned Parenthood all across the state did some amazing work. Just at PPCNC volunteers contributed a collective 218 volunteer hours knocking on doors, making phone calls, and talking to voters about the stakes in the election. This work is critical no matter the outcome of any election, and we applaud our volunteers who are so willing to give their time and energy to the cause.
We can’t be certain what the upcoming legislative session will hold, but we can be certain that we have some seriously amazing volunteers who will help us fight the good fight and let these politicians in Raleigh know that Women are STILL Watching, and we WILL remember!
Now that my Civic Engagement internship with Planned Parenthood is coming to a close, I thought it would be a great time to reflect on my experience thus far and share some of my favorite moments.
My main objective for the last five months has focused on registering people to vote and encouraging them to fill out pledge cards, essentially making a commitment to vote in this year’s election in the form of a postcard. Throughout the course of this assignment, I spent many hours in one of the health center waiting rooms talking to patients and attended many community events sharing the initiative with the public.
Overall, the response to the project was positive, and the vast majority of people I talked to were supportive not only of our efforts to “Get out the Vote,” but of Planned Parenthood in general. Sure, I ran into the occasional skeptic or non-supporter, and even had a couple of folks in the clinic gang up and scathingly inform me, “A doctor’s office is not the place for this,” but on the whole, I was very pleased and encouraged by the amount of participation and approval we received. Most individuals were happy to register and pledge to vote, and some were downright delighted that I was there and were eager to do more to help.
Every location executing this Civic Engagement program I’m sure had to face their unique challenges. Most of the obstacles I confronted had to do with the fact that I was trying to convince a demographic largely composed of highly educated, politically conscious activists the importance of civic discourse. My problem was not a matter of finding support for Planned Parenthood, but rather, finding populations not already inundated with our email alerts and still willing to fill out a pledge card (as long as we promised not to waste the postage on him/her). If that sounds like a complaint, it’s not… I can think of much more difficult circumstances to be under.
Approaching one person after the other, without knowing their views, state of mind, and ultimately how they may react to me was taxing at times, but engaging people in conversation and relaying the importance of voting also turned out to feel very empowering. This internship also provided ample opportunity to see how people perceive Planned Parenthood, and try to educate and clear up any misconceptions for those who had skewed ideas of what we do and what we stand for.
Below are some favorite stories from my experience:
While tabling at the farmer’s market one afternoon, a kid came up to my booth, picked up a condom, and asked, “What’s this?”
“Well, it’s for adults,” I explained. That then prompted the next question:
“Oh, like a coffee bag?” I smiled and responded,
“Yes, like a coffee bag.”
It was precious.
Another community member told me a story about driving by Southpoint Mall one day and was surprised to see lots of anti-abortion signs out—you know, the particularly graphic ones. She was so infuriated by the display that as soon as she returned home, she Googled the event, identified the protesting organization, and gave them a little phone call. Her message on their voicemail went something like this: “Hi, I saw your signs out today, and I’m just calling to say ‘Thank you.’ Thank you so much for inspiring me to donate $5,000 to Planned Parenthood.”
And that’s exactly what she did.
I met someone recently who had lost all faith in the U.S. electoral system and had no intentions to vote in the election. I explained our project to her and the many reasons why we felt it was particularly important to mobilize our patients and community members this year. She told me she had moved from the northeast where she used to get free birth control from Planned Parenthood, and was utterly shocked to see how much less accessible it was in North Carolina. It seemed to be that fact alone that made her decide to both register and pledge to vote that day.
This internship has given me what I believe to be an important role this year. Too many times I have felt passionate and angry about an issue, but helplessly paralyzed by not knowing what to do about it. This time I was able to do something. Never have I seen such blatant disrespect for the rights that so many women before me had to fight tooth and nail to achieve as I’ve witnessed this year. Every bit of proposed (and passed!) bigoted legislation, every chauvinistic comment, and every other attempt to dispossess us of our freedom to choose what we do with our bodies that came about during this and the last session only fueled my fire and made my job easier.
I urge everyone at some point to educate yourselves on a topic you’re passionate about, get out and hear what your fellow citizens have to say, and share your own knowledge in the hopes of shedding more light on it. I’ve gotta say, doing so can feel really good, and who knows, you may even inspire someone.
“[Center's name withheld] cares about your health. And because we do not perform abortions or arrange adoptions, we have no financial interest in your decision. You deserve to make an informed decision. Call us today.”
This quote comes from just one of the many Crisis Pregnancy Centers that have cropped up all over North Carolina. The term “Crisis Pregnancy Center” (CPC) has a nice little ring to it–especially if you’re a woman seeking options for an unintended pregnancy. But like other crafty, yet deceitful titles (e.g., “Citizens United”) you really shouldn’t judge a book solely by its cover.
Thanks to a recent investigation by NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Foundation (NPCNCF), the troublesome and misleading truth about many CPCs has come to light. From October 2010 to July 2011, several NPCNCF staff members and volunteers did research into 66 of the estimated 122 CPCs in North Carolina. The investigators performed 27 in-person visits, made 40 phone calls, and analyzed 47 websites. Below is a quick rundown of the project, but for the full report, check out The Truth Revealed: North Carolina’s Crisis Pregnancy Centers.
The investigation aimed to identify medically inaccurate information being disseminate by the CPCs, to expose the falsehoods within their advertizing, and to find out how many “clinics” had solely non-medical staff on board despite purporting to be a comprehensive health center like Planned Parenthood.
Of the 66 centers…
- 17 alleged that abortion leads to breast cancer
- 32 claimed that no common forms of birth control (besides abstinence) are effective in preventing pregnancy
- 16 suggested that the patient wait for a miscarriage rather than have an abortion
- 92 percent had no medical professionals on staff
The vast majority of the CPCs they inspected claimed to provide accurate information on all options for making “informed decisions” about unintended pregnancy, but in reality, most of them disproportionately exaggerated the risks of abortion and contraception. Some also used tactics like having unlicensed, non-medical staff members dressed in lab coats and scrubs perform ultrasounds (how is that even legal??), and give out free diapers and highchairs to deceptively coerce people into making pro-life decisions only.
So why is this a problem?
Well, I have nothing against exercising one’s freedom of speech, and they have a right to use marketing tools to get their message heard–like plastering ads in high-risk areas, and establishing centers in just about every college town in the nation–but I do have a problem with organizations using scare tactics and misinformation to manipulate people who are in an already vulnerable state.
Oh, and did I mention that in addition to private funding, many of them are now receiving state dollars with every “Choose Life” custom license plate purchased? And thanks to the “Women’s Right to Know” Act, CPCs will soon be getting free advertizing since the new law requires the state to provide a directory of places where women can get FREE ultrasounds.
The ultimate goal of the investigation was to uncover the misleading information these fast-growing resources provide to the public in order to urge the government to enforce some regulations on their operations. Below is a list of the changes NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Foundation wants to see:
- Require honest advertising and promotion that begins with disclosing anti-choice bias.
- Ensure that CPCs not employing trained medical or counseling staff make clear that clients will be seen by untrained staff/volunteers.
- Guarantee that advice and counsel being dispensed are medically-sound and accurate.
- Require that CPCs keep client confidentiality as is required by legitimate medical and counseling clinics.
In addition to the investigation, NARAL Pro-Choice America is currently circulating a petition to communicate public disapproval of false advertising associated with many CPC and to urge representatives to support the “Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women’s Services Act.” If this bill passes, it would be mandatory for Crisis Pregnancy Centers that only provide counseling on pro-life options and are not legitimate medical centers to disclose those facts. Now is that so hard?
Want to learn more? Here are some other links and related articles:
From the Women are Watching rally on Tuesday to Cecile Richards and Sandra Fluke last night, women’s rights have taken center stage at the Democratic National Convention. It has been wonderful to see so many powerful women speakers, like Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, NC Governor Bev Perdue, NARAL President Nancy Keenan, Tammy Duckworth, Kathleen Sebelius, Lily Ledbetter, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Elizabeth Warren.
The unprecedented focus on women and women’s rights comes on the heels of two years of unrelenting attacks. Two years ago, when Republicans fueled by Tea Party support took control of the US House of Representatives, they came after women’s health. They voted to end cancer screenings and well-woman visits for five million women, end funding for birth control at Planned Parenthood, and for good measure, they even tried to redefine rape. Across the country, there have been more than 100 new laws enacted to restrict women’s access to health care.
Right here in North Carolina, our GOP-led legislature, despite campaigning on promises to create jobs, went to work to ban Planned Parenthood from receiving state funding to provide preventive health care- like annual exams, birth control, cancer screenings, and STD detection and prevention- to women.
As Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood Action Fund President, said last night at the convention, “So why are we having to fight in 2012 against politicians who want to end access to birth control? It’s like we woke up in a bad episode of Mad Men.”
The 2012 Election is perhaps the most important one we’ve faced in our lifetime. It is very clear that Republicans want to take us back. Take us back in every way, from fair pay, to birth control, to voting, to controling our bodies and our lives. Mitt Romney says he’ll “get rid of” Planned Parenthood, turning his back on the three million women who come to us for care every year.
Well, we’ve got a message for Mitt, “ We’ve come way too far to ever turn back. And we won’t.” Watch Cecile Richard’s full speech as she endorses President Barack Obama.
As Civic Engagement Intern at Planned Parenthood, my job largely entails registering Planned Parenthood patients to vote and asking them to sign voter pledge cards so we can remind them once early voting starts. (It’s October 18! Don’t forget!)
My internship is based in Durham so that means I spend a lot of time in the health center waiting room talking to both our English and Spanish speaking clients about voting.
Being in the clinic waiting room while patients fill out paper work and wait to be seen gives me the advantage of talking with other women about a variety of topics. In the past months its ranged from our intrigue and lack of experience with female condoms to what a shame it is that fast food places throw away food that could go to the homeless and hungry. Some women share their experiences with birth control and insurance companies.
I learn a lot from the vantage point of my table in the Durham waiting room. Mostly it’s simply interesting conversations with people as they wait to receive their annual exam or birth control but often I’m learning the sad truths about our broken healthcare system as well.
Numerous times people have come in who are uninsured or who cannot afford the co-pay that their insurance requires to get a STD test, PAP test or the birth control they need. I watch as these folks have to call around for family members to come to the clinic to help pay, or as the clinic staff calls around to Medicaid or the insurance companies to try to get the patient’s needs covered.
The Affordable Care Act has certainly helped to address some of these problems for those that are lucky enough to have insurance by now requiring insurers to cover birth control with no co-pay and to cover preventative services (like annual exams) at 100% as well. By 2014, millions of those who are currently uninsured will be insured through the expansion of Medicaid eligibility or have the option of purchasing low-cost health insurance through State Exchanges. (Basically these are marketplaces where people can compare plans and select a plan that best fits their needs and/or their budget.)
These changes are definitely important steps in the right direction to fix our broken health care system. However, the question still remains how affordable insurance coverage will truly be for those who are low-income and do not qualify for Medicaid. And those people who are undocumented will not be able to receive any benefits from the ACA while still being in some of the most vulnerable situations when it comes to their health care.
Even once 2014 rolls around while many more people will have access to the care they need, no one will truly have a right to health and health care in this country. This is what continues to set us apart (and not in a good way) from other industrialized nations.
Germany, for example, started their universal health care system in 1883 and Great Britain’s was instituted in 1911! Yet in the US, the richest country in the world, it is clear from the current political dialogue that Universal Healthcare is still a long way off.
Thus the staff of Planned Parenthood, health departments and other community providers across the country do what they can to catch the people that fall through the gaping healthcare cracks in our current system. At Planned Parenthood, we believe that health care and the ability to live a healthy life should be a human right. Legislation like the Affordable Care Act will go a long way to help many of our patients but it still won’t guarantee a right to care.
The story doesn’t have a bleak ending, though. While the current political discourse on this topic can be pretty depressing, there are numerous community organizations and country-wide networks fighting for Universal Healthcare as a human right. You can check out Callen-Lorde Community Health Center and Geshundheit Institute for some examples of how it can look!
Planned Parenthood Health Systems Action Fund and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Central North Carolina, separately incorporated political arms of the women’s health non-profits, announced today their strong endorsement of Walter Dalton for North Carolina Governor in the 2012 general election.
The stakes have never been higher for women in North Carolina. Last session the state legislature spent more time debating and passing bills to limit women’s access to health care than almost any other single topic.
Despite having campaigned on a promise to create jobs, the new legislative majority instead went to work immediately on banning Planned Parenthood from receiving state funding to provide preventive health care–like annual exams, birth control, cancer screening and STDs detection and prevention. They stripped state employees and teachers of comprehensive reproductive health coverage and then passed one of the most extreme bills restricting access to safe and legal abortion in the country.
“There’s no question that last year’s legislative session was the worst on record for women’s health. Given the legislature’s current leadership, we know women’s health will likely be their primary target once again in 2013,” says Melissa Reed, VP of Public Policy for Planned Parenthood Health Systems Action Fund. “We need a governor who will stand strong for women’s health and that’s Walter Dalton.”
From President Obama’s decision to protect birth control coverage through the Affordable Care Act to extreme statements made by candidates like Todd Akin from Missouri, women’s health is front and center in this year’s election. Just this week Republicans at their national convention in Tampa adopted a party platform banning safe and legal abortion with no exceptions for rape, incest or to save the woman’s life.
“There’s a reason Pat McCrory isn’t in Tampa this week,” says Paige Johnson, VP of External Affairs for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Central North Carolina. “He has carefully crafted a moderate image in North Carolina to appeal to swing voters, most of whom are women. But women are watching and we won’t be fooled,” she continued.
“Unlike McCrory, Walter Dalton understands that deeply personal and often complex medical decisions must be left to a woman, her family, and her faith, with the counsel from her doctor or health care provider,” added Johnson.
Last session Governor Perdue vetoed the budget, which included the ban on Planned Parenthood’s preventive care, as well as legislation requiring two mandatory waiting periods and state-directed counseling intended to shame and judge a woman for deciding to end her pregnancy. The legislature overrode Perdue’s vetoes by a slim margin, which underscores the importance of electing a governor with the courage to veto and legislators who will stand up for women’s health and vote to protect a woman’s right to make deeply personal medical decision without government intrusion.
Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Central North Carolina is also very pleased to announce our full list of endorsed candidates in the 2012 General Election. The list can be found here.
Over the weekend presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced his running mate; Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan. Ryan has gotten a lot of attention for his extreme fiscal ideas about Medicare and the Affordable Care Act, but that’s not the only area where Ryan gets extreme.
The National Right to Life committee has given Ryan a score of 100% every term he’s served since he began in 1999, and Ryan stated in 2010 that, “I’m as pro-life as a person gets.” But it’s clear when it comes to women’s lives, he’s anything but.
On Ryan’s website he writes 1453 words explicating his views on abortion rights, and not one of those words is “woman,” or “mother.”
So Paul Ryan may be pro-life, just not necessarily pro-women’s lives.