Column: Women left behind

Why am I not rejoicing over what happened last week? No matter where you were over spring break, you surely heard about the major health care reform that finally went down in Washington. Despite the Tea Party protests, national ambivalence and congressional gridlock, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law on Mar. 23, 2010.

Pelosi, Obama, et al., were understandably self-congratulatory about their accomplishment. For the past months, the media had been carrying on as if the election of Scott Brown was going to be the bill’s death-knell, and Republicans in Congress have reminded us constantly that their new modus operandi is saying no to everything. That the bill actually made it through while we were all away (hopefully) enjoying our spring breaks seems almost like a miracle.

So why am I not happy? While the arduously achieved health care reform has accomplished many things for American citizens – no more pre-existing conditions, no more denying children insurance for any reason, and a host of others – it has done so at women’s expense.

The easiest thing to do would be to accept the small advantages the act will eventually provide. At least now I won’t be charged more for insurance because I’m a woman, right? According to The New York Times in their article “Overhaul will lower the costs of being a woman,” insurance companies are no longer allowed to discriminate based on sex (because for some reason, it was legal until just a few days ago). When a friend sent me the article, I was more incensed by these reminders of institutional injustice than relieved at the strides forward it documents.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy that Caesarean sections and domestic violence are no longer viable bases to deny a woman health insurance. Because, you know, having a medically mandated procedure or getting beaten up by your spouse makes you a sort of risky client. What’s terrifying is the fact that it took until 2010 to fix these problems, and despite these long-awaited amendments, there is still a lot wrong with the health care women have access to.

By agreeing to reaffirm that federal funds will not be used to pay for abortions (something already ensured by the Hyde Amendment, which has been annually updated since 1977) – which are, by the way, legal medical procedures meant to be available to all women of all income levels if they so choose – Obama has thrown women under the bus.

Aimée Thorne-Thomsen, of the Pro-Choice Public Education Project, guest-blogged at Feministing about her unhappiness with the reform.

“As often is the case, women’s bodies and health, was the ultimate battleground [of health care reform],” she blogged. Although there is more than enough legislation, such as the Hyde Amendment, preventing lower-income women from getting abortions, “the President agreed to sign an executive order barring public funding of abortion in return for their support for the overall bill.” To appease Stupak, his ilk, and the Republican Party, “Women’s health was traded away for a handful of votes.”

But what else is new? Women were sacrificed to the need for political deception from the Republican Party. Faced with Roe v. Wade, anti-choice activists began finding indirect ways to prevent reproductive choice. By reaffirming the validity of legislation like the Hyde Amendment, they’re ensuring that abortions remain unattainable to women who don’t have the funds. While abortion may still be technically legal in the United States, those women who can’t afford them will not get them.

Instead of protecting our rights, as he promised to during his campaign, President Obama chose not to stand tall on his values and promises. As much as I respect the work he has put into this legislation, and as much as I appreciate the change it portends, we were surrendered to the factions chipping away at our constitutional right to reproductive choice. This must be rectified.

HALEY DAVIS is overwhelmed and can be reached at hrdavis@ucdavis.edu.

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