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Women’s fight for equal, quality health care

Published Dec 13, 2009 9:15 PM

Excerpts from a talk given by Ellen Catalinotto at the WWP National Conference, Nov. 14.

The way in which the most vulnerable people are treated is an important measure of a society. Looking at women and children in the United States we see that this “advanced” capitalist country fails on vital indicators.

Second Plenary Session: Jobs and human needs - not banks, racism and imperialist war. Speaker: Ellen Catalinotto.

Each year 28,000 infants die in this county, putting the U.S. in 30th place, behind all of western Europe, several Asian countries, Canada and Cuba in infant mortality. These poor outcomes reflect the entire population. Statistics show that infant mortality for African Americans is more than twice as high (13.6 deaths for every 1,000 live births) as for whites (5.8).

U.S. maternal mortality, the number of women who die for every 100,000 live births, is 41st in the world. Maternal mortality inequalities are even worse—Black women are 3.7 times more likely to die during pregnancy or birth than whites.

We don’t hear much in the media these days about HIV in this country, but the epidemic continues its devastation, especially in communities of color and among women, who now make up a quarter of those infected. Over two-thirds of new infections in women result from unprotected sex with an infected man.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, among females age 25 to 34 HIV was the fourth leading cause of death in African Americans and seventh for Latinas. Among women 35 to 44 HIV was the third leading cause of death for Blacks and fourth for Latinas.

HIV/AIDS affects African-American and Latina women disproportionately.

We don’t have time to discuss the many reactionary aspects of the so-called Affordable Health Care for America Act, passed in the House on Nov 7. As far as women’s health goes, it excludes immigrants, criminalizes those too poor to buy insurance and threatens reproductive choice.

The Stupak amendment to the bill goes beyond existing bans on using federal money to pay for abortions. It forbids private insurers participating in the new health insurance exchange to offer abortion coverage to women, even if women pay for these policies with their own money.

And other health care measures for women of reproductive age are also in danger. The bill does not include basic well-woman care such as pelvic exams, testing for sexually transmitted diseases or contraception. So insurers could exclude or charge extra for such care.

This affects 62 million women ages 15 to 44, of whom 43 million are (hetero)sexually active and rely on contraception to avoid pregnancy. Each year about 6 million pregnancies occur—half of them unintentional. About 4.2 million women give birth, and 1.2 million have abortions.

Maternity care, which private individual policies now exclude, will be required under the new plan. Because so many women of childbearing age are in low-wage jobs, unemployed and without health benefits, 45 percent of the $86 billion spent on maternity care yearly is already paid for under Medicaid-type programs. Will working women who are slightly above the income limits for Medicaid coverage be able to afford this new insurance? Will they find themselves pregnant, uninsured and fined for being in that situation?

The free-market approach to medicine in this country swings wildly from flat denial of care to excessive, expensive—and often unproven—high-tech diagnostic tests and treatments.

It is for-profit chaos. Now we have the spectacle of Congress throwing single-payer and women’s right to abortion overboard. Health care reform is being turned into a financial bonanza for the insurance and drug industries and a political bonanza for the anti-women right. This demands a fightback.

Women must be and will be in the forefront of the struggle needed for a truly socialist health system which serves peoples’ needs instead of corporate profits.