ObamaCare Passed Passing Up Reproductive Justice

Eight million more women than men voted for Obama for president. And one of the reasons we did was because of his purported position on reproductive justice issues such as abortion and emergency contraception (EC).

For example, in 2008 he pledged to Planned Parenthood: “I will not yield” to pro-life concerns. But with the stroke of 20 pens, that is just what President Obama did, signing into law, on March 23, the long-awaited “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (H.R. 3590)” by pandering to pro-life Democrats.

“President Obama made an eleventh-hour agreement to issue an executive order lending the weight of his office to the anti-abortion measures included in the bill. This move was designed to appease a handful of anti-choice Democrats who have held up health care reform in an effort to restrict women’s access to abortion,” Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) wrote on its web site.

“This executive order helps to cement the misconception that the Hyde Amendment is settled law rather than what it really is — an illegitimate tack-on to an annual must-pass appropriations bill. It also sends the outrageous message that it is acceptable to negotiate health care reform on the backs of women.”

When Congress passed the Hyde Amendment in 1976, excluding abortion from health care services provided to low-income women through Medicaid, the hope was that ObamaCare would correct this injustice.

But with the signing into law Obama’s Health Care Reform bill, many women are dismayed that the bill’s anti-abortion provision not only keeps the Hyde Amendment in place but it also upholds the Stupak–Pitts Amendment, an amendment that prohibits the use of federal funds “to pay for any abortion or to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion.”

Using women’s health care as a bargaining chip to pass H.R. 3590 has diminished, if not eliminated — for poor women and women of color who cannot pay for reproductive health care out-of-pocket — not only a safe abortion accessible to them but also emergency contraception.

On the same day Obama signed H.R. 3590, the Center for Reproductive Rights reignited its challenge to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (that was won on March 23, 2009 in the U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York court) to make the morning-after-pill accessible to all women and girls without a prescription and age restriction.

“This past weekend, the White House turned its back on women, sanctioning a cruel and unjust federal policy that denies poor women across the country access to medically necessary abortions. Given the ground that women lost in the healthcare debate over access to abortion, it is now even more important that the administration step up its efforts to increase access to contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

With Obamacare’s limitation on women’s access to an abortion, the FDA’s approval for over-the-counter sales of emergency contraception (EC) would be a small victory for women in this country in terms of reproductive justice. Why? Because when the fault lines of race, class, and geographical location contribute to some of the existing discrimination and disparities marginalized populations of women confront, the politics of “choice” is never as simple as a matter of public versus private domain. And a woman’s “choice” is predicated on accessibility. But her “choice” is gravely diminished when EC is as difficult as obtaining a safe abortion.

In African-American women’s communities I work with – urban and rural – across the country, information about EC and its accessibility is negligible. Those women and communities that do know about EC face an uphill battle either finding pharmacies in their communities that carry EC, or finding informed and culturally competent pharmacists and staff that dispense the drug without making women feel embarrassed, ashamed or filthy.

irene-headshot.jpgAfrican-American women, who are besieged by a cultural iconography of black female sexuality that is wild and wonton, face a distorted reality. As a consequence, they have high rates of sexual abuse and assaults (but low rates of reporting them);  the highest percentage of unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions; and  the highest number of uninsured and underinsured population of women in the country.

EC would greatly reduce the number of unintended pregnancies in the African-American community by affording women — in this anti-abortion era — reproductive autonomy to invest in their health intervention and prevention care.

Reproductive justice is not only about access to information; it’s also about the availability of safe choices afforded to women provided by our government. But how will we know with the passing of this bill?

Rev. Irene Monroe

Published by the LA Progressive on March 25, 2010
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About Rev. Irene Monroe

Rev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes - “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Her writings have also appeared in Boston Herald and in the Boston Globe. Her award-winning essay, “Louis Farrakhan’s Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia”, was greeted with critical acclaim.

Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies. As an religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other ” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.”