By Kalena Murphy
RWV Virtual Convening
In December, Raising Women’s Voices (RWV) regional coordinators (RCs) gathered for our first RWV Virtual Convening. The event provided an opportunity for RCs to come together and share solidarity, energy, inspiration, and new strategies for our work to expand access to health care. Here are some highlights of the Convening’s sessions:
We started with a round-up of state activism in the 2020 election season, moderated by Kavelle Christie of Community Catalyst and RWV’s coordinating team. RCs shared what worked and hopes for the future. Cassandra Welchlin, of the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, used strategies like no-contact canvassing; online events; and lifting up issues important to Black women, like COVID-19, Medicaid expansion, and Black maternal mortality. Sara Finger, of Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, described how they targeted 18-26-year-old urban women using postcard outreach and Hustle, a peer-to-peer texting platform. Sara expressed pride in Wisconsin’s huge early voting turnout. Gena Ozols, Field Director of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), worked on two huge ballot issues: paid family leave, which passed, and banning later abortions, which was defeated. COLOR continued its long-standing canvassing program; pivoted to phone outreach; and wove voter engagement into all programming, including a weekly Spanish-language radio show for pregnant people.
A New Administration
RWV coordinating team members Tammy Boyd and Kineta Sealey, both of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, joined our own Sarah Christopherson on a post-election federal analysis. Tammy described the incoming Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to issues of importance to our communities, noting that Senator Harris’ (D-CA) support for health care and expanding coverage are particularly relevant to our work. Sarah described the economic and political contexts that will influence efforts to build health justice in 2021. Sarah said we can, and should, strongly advocate for the Biden-Harris administration to use executive authority to reverse the last administration’s destructive policies that funded fake clinics, allowed employers not to cover birth control, and permitted clinicians to refuse to care for trans folks. Kineta explained that the U.S. Supreme Court appears likely to rule against Texas’ argument that the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) is unconstitutional just because Congress repealed one section of the law (the penalty for not having insurance). Kineta explained that, with a new conservative majority, opponents of reproductive and health justice are hoping that the Supreme Court will roll back progress.
The ACA’s Future
Deborah Reid, of the Legal Action Center, and Priscilla Huang, of the National Health Law Program, joined RWV co-founder Cynthia Pearson to talk about the ACA’s future. Deborah and Priscilla both emphasized the differences between actions the Biden-Harris administration can make quickly (such as refunding the ACA navigator and outreach programs) and what must go through time-consuming rule-making processes. The latter includes important changes, such as allowing family planning clinics to once again give clients information about abortion care and funding local governments to ensure that health care is first response in emergency situations. Both panelists expressed confidence that advocates will be able to make important gains in access to health care and coverage over the next two years.
Going Beyond Coverage
Lois Uttley, RWV co-founder, provided an overview of critical problems caused by inequities and gaps in the health care delivery system that occur across the country. Lois lifted up concerns such as the inequitable distribution of hospital beds, the disproportionate impact on people of color who live in communities with a shortage of hospital beds, and complex access problems faced by pregnant people. Lois also described a proposed health equity approach that is being used successfully in New York. Catherine Haywood, of Women With A Vision in New Orleans, spoke about the important role played by community health workers, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Anduwyn Williams, of WV Free, described the state’s lack of maternity care and abortion clinics, and Cindy Watson, of JASMYN in Jacksonville Florida, discussed provision of services to LGBTQ+ youth, especially LGBTQ+ youth of color.
Addressing Maternal & Infant Mortality
The Convening concluded with a panel discussion on maternal and infant mortality. Panelists included Kalena Murphy, RWV’s Senior State Advocacy Manager; Dr. Joia Crear-Perry of the National Birth Equity Collaborative; Marsha Jones of the Afiya Center; and Erin Smith, of the Kentucky Health Justice Network. Dr. Joia Crear-Perry shared her story of giving birth to her son at five and a half months while in medical school. She didn’t have any of the risk factors for preterm birth, but, as a Black woman, she was experiencing blatant racism in medical school. Dr. Crear-Perry expressed the importance of understanding that gender oppression and racism are root causes of these poor outcomes. Our conversation continued on the current state of maternal and infant mortality. Marsha shared how COVID-19 has impacted their doula work at Southern Roots Doula Services, the barriers they continue to face in Texas, and Erin described how COVID-19 and Breanna Taylor’s heartbreaking murder have impacted pregnant peoples and trans folks’ access to reproductive health care in Kentucky. The panelists stressed the importance of cultural competency and implicit bias training on all levels, advocacy for Medicaid expansion, and support for organizations that provide abortion care and other reproductive services.
As COVID-19 continues impacting our RCs and their communities, we are committed to providing timely updates through our weekly newsletters and listserv. Sign up for RWV’s weekly newsletter at http://raisingwomensvoices.net/. You can also get updates via Facebook and Twitter (@RWV4HealthCare).
Kalena Murphy is the NWHN’s Senior State Advocacy Manager for RWV.