Health

US Government Shutdown: Women’s Bodies as Political Battleground

My husband and I have been together for almost seven years, and married for two. We live in Brooklyn, and work as freelancers or consultants. We are pretty much ready for the next big step in our lives – starting to plan for a baby.

There is one big barrier in between us and a child – healthcare.

Pregnancy: Unaffordable.
Pregnancy: Unaffordable.

Our combined income is above the US average, and we both work in good jobs, but the cost of a decent health insurance with adequate maternity and newborn care is more than we can afford. Without such healthcare, we do not feel comfortable starting to try to get pregnant. We are well aware of the saying that “there is never a right time to have a baby”, but pregnancy and childbirth without access to affordable healthcare is a scenario we are not willing to face, nor would we ever put our future baby in a position where he or she would not be guaranteed proper healthcare services while in my womb, or after delivery.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), which was signed into law in March 2010, is far from a perfect fix for the abysmally broken US healthcare system, which currently leaves close to 50 million Americans uninsured – but it is a step in the right direction. ACA has now become a bargaining chip in a battle that has nothing to do with the people, but everything to do with politics and power. The Republicans went so far to prevent women from having access to proper sexual and reproductive health care, that they sent hundreds of thousands of American federal workers home without pay – and literally shut down the government. Who bears a large part of the consequences? Women do. So do veterans, women and children needing nutritional support, and all the people expect to continue working with delayed pay or no pay. 

In the current situation, women and girls face discrimination in the health insurance market solely because of their sex. We pay higher rates, often lack access to life-saving preventative services such as HPV testing and vaccinations, birth control, cancer screenings – and now, Republicans want to continue to let employers and insurance companies deny a broad range of preventative women’s health care services based on “personal moral objection”. Such services include HPV screening and vaccinations, STD testing and treatment, breastfeeding support, support for victims of domestic violence – and birth control. Of course, there are no such “moral objection” clauses for men’s healthcare services.

You know what I have a personal moral objection to?

Legalized gender-based discrimination and the government playing Russian roulette with women’s health – and possibly our lives.

This affects my life on a very personal level, but I know I am one of the lucky ones. I can afford some level of health care. I don’t have to go entirely uninsured, and I have options available to me – unlike millions of women and families who simply cannot afford any health care nor have access to jobs that provide it. These women also don’t have the luxury that I have of being able to plan pregnancies, or avoid unwanted pregnancies – because many of them cannot afford birth control. They are stripped of every possibility to control their sexual and reproductive health decisions, and are then left without proper health care services if they do end up pregnant, accidentally or not. The current health care system not only perpetuates gender-based discrimination, but actually legalizes it.

Women’s vaginas and wombs are political bargaining chips in a battle that has nothing to do with us, but everything to do with protecting existing power structures and keeping the decision making power in the hands of the mainly male elite sitting in the House, acting like tantrum-throwing toddlers. Access to affordable and quality health care is not charity – it is not a luxury, it isn’t about handouts, and it absolutely should not be about religious ideology. Using women’s bodies as bargaining chips is incredibly offensive to our autonomy and our rights as individuals and as citizens. Our reproductive and sexual health should not be a political battle ground, and our bodies are not political tools.  The US economy has become the latest hostage in the war on women in this country on a larger level, but at the personal level actual lives are affected in a horrible, devastating way. For me and my husband, it means delaying our family plans indefinitely, until we can afford decent health insurance. For others, it may mean not being able to afford to avoid pregnancy. For some, it may mean not being able to access life-saving treatment and care.

One thing is clear:  There is a war on women in this country – and it is far from over.

Watch Senator Elizabeth Warren articulate what we are all thinking:

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Category: Health
Tagged with: ACA    Birth control    Family Planning    Government shutdown    health insurance    Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act    Sexual and Reproductive Health    women's health    women's rights

Emma Saloranta

Emma is an advocate and a feminist who is passionate about using creative and innovative approaches to expanding women's and girls' opportunity to live the kind of lives the choose. A native of Finland, Emma has worked in the U.S., Kenya, India and Brazil, and currently lives in Tanzania with her husband and toddler son. Follow @Emmasalor on Twitter and Emma.saloranta on Instagram.

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