In this edition of Street Roots Judith Arcana reminds us of how far we have come, and much we have to lose should we forget.
She was there when women’s health care and reproductive rights emerged from the shadows to become a medical and social standard. Abortions went from back alleys to clinics, and contraception meant woman could plan their families and their lives. Those in poverty could access women’s clinics for proper care, at a price they could afford, with no stigmas attached.
Today we have not only lost much of that forward momentum, we are sliding back to the shadows. What had been sporadic flares from one corner of the country or another, has become a barrage of bills and laws restricting access to preventative health care and derailing women’s reproductive rights. In some cases, a woman seeking an abortion must submit to an invasive, costly and medically unnecessary ultrasound.
Other laws are more backhanded, such as laws in several states that prohibit public hospitals from entering into a transfer agreement to provide health care to abortion patients in cases of emergency. The legally imposed prohibition has been used as an argument to close clinics, even though emergency cases are very rare. In Ohio, rape crisis centers have newly imposed gag rules on what they can say to victims of rape. It was one of several restrictive policies inserted in the state’s budget bill.
And across the country, Planned Parenthood — the nation’s largest provider of health care for low-income women — is being gutted by lawmakers who dismiss the value of women’s health care wholesale under the dogma of abortion prohibition. It is, of course, the families in low-income households — people struggling to find or keep a job, to raise a family or keep a roof over their heads — who are most reliant on social services, and therefore public policy regarding health care. The well heeled will always be able to tap the services they need or want.
No wonder, then, that the term “war on women” is so frustrating to Arcana. It should be frustrating to all of us.
The so-called war on women is a misnomer. To label it a war suggests there was a breakdown in diplomacy, leaving the nation’s leadership to turn to measures of last resort.
Sadly, what is happening is our elected government running its course. These are not political coups; this is how we — or rather they — conduct our business. As such, this methodical divestment in women’s rights is more nefarious.
Nor did it just erupt, either. The attitudes about women’s rights have always been there, as Arcana knows well. There is much to learn between the generations, and it will take a combined effort to turn back the policies that are attempting to turn back the clock. We are fortunate in Oregon to have government representatives who understand the need for equity in health care, including women’s reproductive rights. But the efforts across the country should remind us that what we have achieved continues to be worth the fight.