Taken from the September/October 2016 issue of the Women's Health Activist Newsletter.
We know that discrimination can compromise people’s health — whether those attitudes are expressed in the exam room, when a clinician disbelieves a woman’s report of disabling menstrual cycles, or in the workplace, where micro-aggressions against people of color can create stress leading to high blood pressure.
That’s why the NWHN keeps the big picture in mind, even when we’re working on very specific regulations and policies. We bring a multi-layered approach to our work on women’s health because we understand that details matter — and context matters, too.
That’s why I’m extremely concerned about this election. The NWHN is a non-partisan organization that focuses on policies. We don’t endorse or support candidates, but we do track policy proposals from candidates up and down the ballot. The differences between parties are stark — and dangerous. Here’s a partial list of important policies proposed by leading candidates:
- Repeal the ACA
- Criminalize abortion
- Let bosses decide whether insurance covers contraception
- Defund family planning
- Ban laws protecting LGBTQ civil rights
- Allow approval of new drugs with few or no clinical trials
- Oppose equal pay laws
- Allow political and business interference in decisions that should be based on science.
Our readers are well-informed and concerned about the specific threats to women’s health explicit in policies supported by the anti-abortion, anti-ACA, anti-Planned Parenthood candidates. But, what about the bigger picture, the context? That’s what has me really frightened. Women’s health advocates have been through some tough election years. We’ve heard anti-abortion, anti-health care reform proposals before; we’ve had to struggle through years of political climates that were hostile to women. But this election is mind-boggling. From proposals to build border walls and ban Muslim immigrants, to charges that Mexican immigrants are rapists – these proposals are designed to fan the flames of nativism and prejudice. They’re dangerous not only to the people targeted (although that’s bad enough) but also to women’s health.
When any specific group is singled out for policies and restrictions not imposed on others, it leads to acceptance of broader restrictions. Abortion restrictions were first imposed on low-income women, through the Hyde Amendment. When advocates couldn’t rally enough support to defeat Hyde, abortion opponents slowly but surely extended these restrictions, which now impact service women, Peace Corps volunteers, Federal employees, and women who purchase private insurance through ACA marketplaces in 25 states. If those of us who believe health care is a human right, and that women can make their own health care decisions, had forcefully stood up for low-income women’s rights and quickly rallied to overturn Hyde, abortion opponents wouldn't have grown ever-more powerful. I’m confident we’re on the verge of defeating Hyde and other abortion restrictions, but I’m ashamed it’s taken so long.
That’s what frightens me most about this election. Proposals to separate groups out and target them for suspicion, restriction, and exclusion are dangerous, and lead to even more targeting. We’ll all be touched by these dangerous proposals, if Election Day returns put their champions into office. We who support women’s health know our opposition to these anti-woman, anti-abortion, anti-health care, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim proposals has to be registered on Election Day. I’m planning to help get out the vote, and to vote like my life depends on it. I hope you will, too.
Cindy Pearson was the NWHN’s Executive Director from 1996 to 2021. One of the nation's leading advocates for women's health, Cindy often testified before Congress, NIH and the FDA and was frequently featured in the news as a consumer expert on women’s health issues. When she retired, Cindy received a Congressional Resolution in honor of her outstanding contributions to the health of women and girls.