Reform or Retreat?

Is the new health care bill a step back for women’s rights?

As women, we are entitled to certain enjoyments including, but not limited to, facials, chocolate, lying about our age, “girls’ night out” and (insert stereotypical pleasure here). But we also have the freedom to play sports, be the president of a multi-million dollar franchise, dress ourselves in something other than long skirts (thanks for the Capri pants, Mary Tyler Moore), talk back and fight for our beliefs. But what about our rights when it comes to health care?

Basic medical needs are covered if you’re in school or at a job where health insurance is provided, and thanks to programs like Medicaid, which is funded by the government, women who are below the poverty level can still be cared for. But as the recent debate has shown, there is still a lot to be done to improve health care overall.

President Obama tried to change everything with the health care reform in March, and it seemed like there would be the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. The new reform makes health care more affordable for 95 percent of Americans, something that was not a possibility before. Specifically in Ohio, approximately 1.4 million people who do not have health insurance will be covered. And though the majority of Americans reap the benefits from Obama’s reform, he couldn’t please everyone, and for women’s rights this couldn’t be more distressing.

Obama campaigned as Pro-Choice, a fact which, upon his inauguration, prompted a sigh of relief from all those who wanted abortion restrictions abolished. But when the time came to step up with all his boastings of “change,” President Obama just couldn’t commit. Instead, he appealed to the majority, gaining support from anti-abortion Democrats who were needed to pass the health care reform. All Obama had to do was promise them he wouldn’t allow abortions for women who weren’t victims of rape or incest or those who couldn’t continue pregnancy due to health issues. Basically, the Hyde Amendment, which was established in 1976 and first set these limits on abortion funding, would continue on.

This was solidified further in November 2009 when the head of the anti-abortion Democrats, Bart Stupak, proposed a bill for the U.S. House of Representatives that mirrored the Hyde Amendment but would allow women to buy supplementary insurance that covers “other” abortions. Known as the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, it became one more wall to block women from their health rights.

Mary Bucklin, who teaches Women and Gender Studies at Northern Kentucky University, sees the lack of federal funding for abortions as a huge step backward for women’s rights.

“As of now, it is legal to have an abortion,”

Bucklin said. “I see [the reform] as a way to circumvent that legality. I understand people who do not want their money going to abortions, so maybe we need a funding provision, much like the one used for people who do not want to fund the war, that can be used for abortions.”

Bucklin remembers the days before Roe v. Wade. Knowing what life was like before this decision makes her thankful but also concerned that Obama’s reform could extinguish Roe v. Wade altogether.

“One of the reasons why medical doctors were for abortions was because women would do [the procedure] themselves and, in most cases, they’d bleed out and die,” Bucklin said. “Or they would go to people who claimed they were doctors, and they might not have been. They might have been plumbers. But women had no other choice.”

Women are forgotten during the abortion debate, and the focus rests more on morality and the child, Bucklin says.

“There is a big push to establish that the child being conceived has more rights than the woman,” Bucklin said.

The debate over viability and whether or not human life begins at conception, in the womb or at birth begs the question: How can a life that cannot be clearly defined be more important than the life of a woman?

It’s extremely convenient that a man in power controls what happens when a woman gets pregnant, whether she wanted to or not. It happened, and if there is any way to right a wrong, it should be figured out between the two people responsible. If the solution is having an abortion, then that is what matters.

Alyssa Jones (name changed), 23, was faced with this very dilemma. When she finally made the choice to have an abortion, she went to Planned Parenthood, and people were standing outside with signs, shouting in protest. Jones was shocked that there were metal detectors at the entrance and two policemen at all times.

“I wanted to hug every person in there,” Jones said. “They were standing up for something that I really believe in and I felt like they were taking a huge risk to do it. I want to make sure those people feel proud of what they do and [know] that they’re doing the right thing and that they’re helping people.”

Regardless of her own experience, Jones always believed that the right to an abortion helps everyone. Medicaid provides health coverage to low-income individuals but has the same limits set for abortion rights under the Hyde and Stupak-Pitts Amendment.

“I feel like I was really lucky,” Jones said.

“I was so happy that I had the right to do that, when in reality I should have only felt that it was my right.”

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