What’s Essential: Fight On for Reproductive Rights

By Rebecca Carillo

I heard this quote a few days ago from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “You have just tossed entirely to the winds what Congress thought was essential, that is, that women be provided these birth control services with no hassle [at] no cost to them. Instead you are shifting the employer’s religious-based beliefs onto the employees.” She was writing (from her hospital bed) in response to a Trump administration move to allow religious exemptions to the Affordable Care Act requirement that employers cover birth control in their insurance plans.

A few days before Mother’s Day, I find myself thinking about RBG and her great work, in particular on women’s issues. Now, more than ever, we need to protect our rights: Protect Affordable Care Act family-planning provisions, protect Roe v. Wade, and push back against the blatant attacks on families at the border, which many Americans have been rightfully outraged about.

The current changes in the political rhetoric are dangerous for women and families, and the present administration has unconscionably been using the pandemic to limit abortion access. The right to safe legal abortions is at risk. In the 1970’s we fought for that right, as well as for help for poor women who needed financial assistance.

This April, as the corona virus came on, Texas and several other Republican-led states tried to get abortion services suspended as “elective” – including a two-pill, non-medical service that is done over a 48-hour period. In the weeks of wrangling that followed, women seeking safe abortions were forced to travel out of state, so that Planned Parenthood facilities in neighboring New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada saw a 706% hike in requests for service.

But what of the women who lacked funds to travel long distances, with overnight stays, and sometimes without any support and at high cost? What about them?

Women’s bodies have been labeled essential, but the right to control our own bodies has not. The history of reproductive issues has been ugly in the US. We can look back to babies forcibly taken from African and Native peoples, to the sterilization of Puerto Rican women during the 40s and 50s, to welfare mothers who were intimidated into getting sterilized for benefits. And our history of low-income yet “essential” jobs is one where countless women have worked without a living wage, adequate prenatal care, or general health access for ourselves or our families. This is not a new issue in America.

For me, personally, as I write these words, there is a special coincidence and meaning on this day of May 7 in the Mayan calendar. It corresponds to a day to ask for fertility in humans and animals, and to request vigor and strength in work and planting — particularly female strength.

We have a challenge before us. As Democrats and women, can we demonstrate strength to defeat disabling fear and the hateful path that this country is on? I hope so. The “stimulus bills” that have been passed don’t speak well for us as a country. The insensitivity to the poor and the immoral disrespect toward working Americans have intensified the uphill battle. Are we truly an alternative to Trump? Let’s prove it — we have a historical opportunity.

Source: “After Texas Abortion Ban, Clinics In Other Southwest States See Influx Of Patients,“ Sarah McCammon, NPR, April 17, 2020