DNC Dispatch: What’s At Stake For Women’s Health This Election Season

The next four years could be like a bad episode of ‘Mad Men.’

I’ll admit it: prior to attending the Democratic National Convention earlier this month, I knew very little about what was at stake for women’s health this election season. Sure, I had heard rumblings about Republican Sen. Todd Akin’s legitimate rape blunder, rolled my eyes when hearing about Republican Rep. Mike Callton’s squeamishness over the v-word, and laughed at the ridiculous conservative notion that women can technically become pregnant two weeks before even doing the deed.

But by the end of DNC, it was very clear that the rights I have taken for granted my whole life are at risk. November 6 doesn’t just present a choice between Obama-Biden and Romney-Ryan. It presents a choice about women’s rights, particularly those involving our health.

Throughout the three-day convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, women took center stage, both figuratively and literally. During the televised speeches at the Time Warner Arena, nearly every major speaker forcefully advocated for women’s rights, to raucous applause. Down the street, enthusiastic cheers from the over-capacity Women’s Caucus meetings echoed through the Charlotte Convention Center. There were panel discussions and workshops, mixers and meetings. On the city streets, pink-shirted Planned Parenthood volunteers, male and female, distributed condoms that read: “Protect Yourself from Romney & Ryan.”

“I never thought I’d see a week when men and women hit the stage time after time and talked about women’s issues,” said Tina Tchen, Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, at a Women’s Caucus meeting on the last day of the convention. The crowd went wild.

In 2012, as in 2008, women voters will decide this election. Women make up approximately 51 percent of the nation’s electorate, reports CNN. Plus, we vote in greater numbers than men. In 2008, 65.7 percent of women turned out to the polls, compared with 61.5 percent of men, says USA Today.

That still leaves more than one-third of women who don’t vote. With so much at stake, that’s simply unacceptable. Here are some of the most resounding women’s health battle cries from the DNC, which will hopefully convince those undecided few of the need to stand up and vote.

“We can’t see a reversal of Roe v. Wade.”

The historic piece of pro-choice legislation has set the tone for the abortion debate in America since 1973. But if recent Republican-led initiatives are any indication, this may not always be the case.

The official GOP platform states that “the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed” and supports a strict ban on abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, and when the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother. According to The Guardian, a staggering number of Republican-led state initiatives have attempted to further restrict abortion rights over the past year. Ohio’s “Heartbeat Bill,” for instance, would ban abortion at as early as five weeks, while Mississippi’s “Personhood” initiative would outlaw abortion, the morning-after pill, hormonal contraception like the pill and the IUD, and even in vitro fertilization.

Such attempts to revoke a woman’s right to choose aren’t just archaic and regressive – they’re downright scary. “It’s like we woke up in a bad episode of Mad Men,” said Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards on night two of the convention.

“Birth control decisions should be left to women, not to the government or their employers.”

President Obama’s Affordable Care Act makes it mandatory for health insurance providers to cover all forms of birth control, without co-pays or deductibles. Previously, birth control coverage was a decision made by state agencies or individual employers.

In comparison, Republican efforts to shut down Planned Parenthood and abolish sex education are aiming to restrict information and access to basic reproductive health services.

Unsurprisingly, men are at the helm of these efforts. In a Republican hearing on contraception earlier this year, not a single woman was included on the panel. The Democrats, who were allowed one witness, chose to present student activist Sandra Fluke. She was dismissed for being “unqualified,” then famously called a slut and prostitute by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh. Politicians across party lines, including President Obama, sprung to Fluke’s defense. Romney was notably silent.

“During this campaign, we’ve heard about the two profoundly different futures that could await women – and how one of those futures looks like an offensive, obsolete relic of our past,” Fluke said on day two of the convention. “Warnings of that future are not distractions. They’re not imagined. That future could be real.” 

Richards echoed that notion at a Women’s Caucus meeting. “This is 2012 and we are still actually arguing over whether women should have the right to birth control in America. That is absolutely unbelievable.” She shared a story of meeting older women who had participated in the women’s rights movement while on the campaign trail. “They carried signs that said: ‘I can’t believe I have to fight this shit again.’”

“Being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition.”

Before the Affordable Care Act, health insurance companies could deny health coverage to women because of “pre-existing conditions” like having breast cancer, being pregnant, or surviving domestic violence, according to Slate. Insurance companies were also able to drop women’s coverage due to pregnancy or sickness, and charge women more for coverage solely because of gender.

“Under Obamacare, insurance companies can no longer discriminate against women,” said Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, on the first night of the convention.

 Before, some wouldn’t cover women’s most basic needs, like contraception and maternity care, but would still charge us up to 50 percent more than men—for a worse plan. They said women who had C-sections or survived breast cancer or even domestic violence had “pre-existing conditions” and would deny them coverage. But this president made it illegal to discriminate against women and ended the practice of insurance companies charging women higher premiums than men for the same coverage. This president ensured women’s free access to preventive services like breast cancer screenings. Being a mother is no longer a liability, and being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition! That’s what change looks like.

“We need a president who respects women.”

Many are familiar with the famous Ms. Magazine cover featuring a Photoshopped President Obama wearing a t-shirt that reads: “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like.” Judging from actions and remarks made over the past several months, it’s obvious that his opponents have a long way to go.

Sebelius hit the nail on the head when she voiced her observations on the Republican National Convention.

I must say I wouldn’t have known it unless they told me over and over again that they love women. That’s what they said: ‘We love women.’ That their mothers were women, that they’re married to women, their sisters are women. But if you watch what they do, they don’t like women very much, they don’t respect women very much and they’re not looking out for us very much.

According to Fluke, “that’s not the America we should be.”

We’ve also seen another future we could choose. First of all, we’d have the right to choose. It’s an America in which no one can charge us more than men for the exact same health insurance; in which no one can deny us affordable access to the cancer screenings that could save our lives; in which we decide when to start our families. An America in which our president, when he hears a young woman has been verbally attacked, thinks of his daughters—not his delegates or donors—and stands with all women.

Again, the crowd – male and female – went wild.

Election Day is November 6. Click here to learn how you can register to vote.

Images: Jessica Marati

Jessica Marati

Jessica Marati currently resides in New York City and covers travel and sustainability for EcoSalon. Catch her weekly column, Behind the Label.