I understand that women’s health has not always been a top priority. Elected officials considered it a marginalized political issue in the 1970’s, when many states hadn’t yet ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, and in the 1960’s when only married women had access to birth control pills. But here in 2014, surely we all can agree that ensuring women’s health—the health of 51% of the population—means ensuring the health of our whole society, right? RIGHT?
It seems that elected officials—a group comprised mostly of men—still consider women’s health a “special interest.” When bills arise that protect or promote women, all too often we see lawmakers send these laws to die in committee. Even worse is when they fight actively against measures protecting women, a move that never fails to confuse me. Even as men, do these politicians not know women? Do they not care about their daughters, wives, mothers, and sisters?
If actions serve as any indication, the answer to that question is “no.” Many elected officials would rather pander to groups who work to deny human rights and health coverage to women and their children. Often this occurs under the guise of budget cuts, while other times it masquerades as protecting women from themselves.
For example, look at bills from the most recent session of the North Carolina General Assembly. One of the very first bills passed by the NC Senate turned down federal funding for the expansion of Medicaid. These funds would have provided healthcare to hundreds of thousands of uninsured North Carolina women, including myself. Plus, the state government would only have had to pay for a fraction of the cost of the expansion—a deal that would benefit workers, companies, families, and most of all: women.
Women make up the majority of uninsured North Carolinians. We put off taking care of our health because we don’t have the money to do so—a decision that will cost us down the road in terms of money, and also in terms of quality of life.
Last session, NC politicians also introduced a bill requiring young women to receive parental consent for mental health and reproductive health services—even when they have been victims of an abusive parent or deserve privacy for another reason. Laws like these cause young women to forgo the help they need. Other bills from 2013 included blocks to birth control access, misinformation in sex education, and laws that would take away towns’ ability to provide comprehensive insurance to their female employees.
This year, our General Assembly will meet in summer for a short session to discuss budget matters. But even in this short timeframe, we may see restrictions to women’s health. In previous short sessions, attacks on women’s health have occurred through sneaky, seemingly unrelated measures like last year’s motorcycle vagina bill.
Every time I vote—whether it’s for a city council member, governor, or in a state senate race—I explore the candidates’ stance on women’s health. Although I wish it were a given, that all representatives support making me as healthy as possible, I know it’s not the reality. I don’t need to agree with a candidate on every single issue, but for me, health is non-negotiable. I vote for candidates who protect women’s health because I need to ensure that my friends and their daughters never run into a situation where the law stands between them and a healthy choice.
May 6th is primary election day in North Carolina. Women make up 54% of NC voters, so let’s use our numbers to create change. Sign and share this online Vote Together 2014 pledge card. After you cast your ballot, don’t forget to take a snapshot of yourself with your “I voted” sticker. Send it to info@WomenAdvanceNC.org to be included in our album of Voting Day Selfies.