Healthcare reform is a women's issue

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Last Friday, Michelle Obama spoke to leaders of several women's groups arguing that "overhauling the nation’s health care system was of critical importance to women and part of 'the next step' in their long quest to assure full opportunity and equality."  With healthcare reform at the forefront, it is becoming more and more obvious that the status quo is sexist, unfair, and often dangerous for women.  For the first time in a long time, I am getting angry.

Maybe I'm angry because Viagra is covered by health insurance but birth control is not, even though it is often used to treat crippling abdominal cramps and other menstrual symptoms.  Maybe I'm angry because while contraception benefits both partners in a heterosexual relationship, the onus of seeking and paying for birth control always falls on the woman.

Or maybe I'm angry because I recently found out that a number of health insurance companies deny women coverage, citing "domestic violence" as a pre-existing condition. Excuse me?  As Feministe explains, this is "blaming the victim" at its worst.  Essentially, this policy reinforces the belief that only "weak" women get physically abused, and that weakness is so much of a liability that such a woman is not eligible for health insurance.  Not only is this ideologically repulsive, it denies healthcare coverage to women who are experiencing violence and have an immediate, physical need for healthcare services.

Michelle Obama listed even more unfair practices, including the fact that a C-section or "having had a baby" can count as a pre-existing condition and result in denial of coverage. She also mentions that many women work part-time (presumably due to motherhood) and therefore are not eligible for health insurance through their employers.

Jewish women such as Heather Booth, Eve Ensler, Nancy Miriam Hawley and Barbara Seaman (featured in the Jewish Women's Archive exhibit Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution) have laid the groundwork for Jewish women in healthcare and activism. Booth fought for reproductive rights, Ensler created a feminist cultural movement with the Vagina Monologues, Hawley worked to reclaim women's bodies with Our Bodies, Ourselves, and Seaman advocated for informed consent, warning labels, and other ways to give women control over their own healthcare.  Can you imagine the difference if these four women were in charge of healthcare reform today?

Michelle Obama is right in her assesment that healthcare is the "next step" towards full equality for women in this country.  As the healthcare debate rages on, we must be vigilant and we must be loud.  Reform is an opportunity for progressive change, but with this opportunity comes the risk of losing ground we have already won, especially considering reproductive rights.  Denial of coverage, lack of access, and unfair policies concerning birth control and reproductive rights are injustices against women that need to be a part of the healthcare discussion. We must ensure that they are addressed and corrected in the plan for reform.

Photo: Doug Mills, The New York Times

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