“History is important. If you don’t know history, it’s as if you were born yesterday. And if you were born yesterday, anybody up there in a position of power can tell you anything, and you have no way of checking up on it.” –Howard Zinn


As a former colony of the British Empire, the United States is directly influenced by the history of European women’s plight prior to the “founding” of this country. Therefore, it is imperative to understand that history so that the near past and current state of affairs related to women’s health rights in this country can be understood in complete context.  The implications of a history that includes a legal system that stems from the struggles of women throughout Europe to defend their reproductive rights against some of the most repressive, genocidal, social and legal structures in history is critical in understanding how the rights of some of the most vulnerable groups of women in this country are infringed upon by existing legislation. It is also critical in grasping the gravity of the current legislative reform related to healthcare that is happening in this country.

This brief is not meant to be complete history of women’s rights in Europe nor the United States, rather a condensed listing of some of the most relevant issues that have lead to the current state of women’s rights in this country. The paper’s perspective is decidedly Western mainstream and certainly an overwhelming amount of information could be contributed if written from the perspective of the myriad cultures that exist in this country. But the for the purposes of this paper, this perspective is a first step in understanding the complete picture of the history of women’s rights in this country.


By the end of the 14th century, European states began the subtle and slow transition from a nature-based society to mercantilism, which eventually evolved into capitalism. The effect this had on women and their reproductive, economic and class circumstances is a steady decline toward subjugation. Women went from positions of equity with men to being perceived as servile, infantile, commodities and reproductive machines. Increasingly, women were seen as reproductive beings, their most important contributions to society being the ability to increase the citizenry. This perspective lead to widespread social and legal restrictions on women’s access to traditional forms of birth control, abortion and holistic healthcare. Their autonomy in these decisions were completely stripped away and became affairs of the State.

There are many historical “moments” that have contributed to the current US social perception of women and legal barriers to their autonomy in controlling their reproductive choices. Some of which include:

  • In the 16th century Europe experienced a decline in population growth, which some historians attribute to “low natality rates and the unwillingness of the poor to reproduce themselves.” Sylvia Federici argues that this population crisis was the beginning of state intrusion into once-private reproduction issues. [i]
  • By the mid 16th century, the prevailing thought of the State was that a larger citizenry determined its stature on the world stage. French political thinker Jean Bodin wrote, “In my view, one should never be afraid of having too many subjects or too many citizens, for the strength of the commonwealth consists in men.” Additionally, Henry IV was known to say “the strength and wealth of a king lie in the number and opulence of his citizens.” This new widespread belief system signaled the beginning of laws punishing any behavior obstructing population growth.[ii]
  • The Great Witch Hunt of the 16th and 17th centuries were a full on assault on women the world over. The primary focus of the witch hunts, says Federici, was to co-opt control over women’s bodies, seizing power of contraception and non-procreative sexuality from them. During this time, European governments enacted severe penalties against reproductive crimes, including contraception, midwifery and infanticide.[iii]
  • There were also very strong social norms that developed indicating that women were incapable of controlling themselves and needed to be hidden away for their own and society’s benefit; women were popularly conveyed publically as unreasonable, vain, wild, wasteful, mouthy, gossipy, scolds, witches, etc. [iv]
  • The Protestant Reformation broke ranks with Christian obsession with chastity and valorized women’s reproductive capabilities. Luther said, “Whatever their weaknesses, women possess one virtue that cancels them all; they have a womb and they can give birth.”[v] Thus more evidence of State and Church interest in women’s bodies, which also meant controlling their powers of reproduction.
  • In the 17th century, in both England and France, laws were enacted that favored marriage and family and penalized celibacy. Simultaneously, demographic recording began, as well as the official intervention of the State in supervision of sexuality, procreation and family life.[vi]
  • During this time, women had to register their pregnancy with the State; capital punishment was the penalty for women whose infants died before baptism after concealing a pregnancy; hosting an unwed pregnant woman was illegal.[vii]
  • This was also a time when women’s alliances through midwifery were destroyed as more midwives were also condemned and punished, not for incompetence as many report, rather for the prevention of infanticide.[viii]
  • With the demonization of the midwife, the male doctor and medical practice took over control of women’s bodies and birthing, which also ushered in the introduction of the importance of the fetus over the health of the mother.[ix]
  • Europeans brought their misogyny to the Colonies and continued to expand their control over the reproductive activities of all women, including African slaves and Native Americans. Initially alliances by colonists were made through marriage, but as the increase in mestizos threatened white rule, colonists began to wage war against women in the New World, including Indigenous, African and European women.[x]
  • New laws were passed in Indigenous communities, influenced by European colonizers, including: married women became the property of men; women must follow their husbands to their homes; authority over children was placed in the hands of men; no one could separate wives from their husbands, forcing women to follow their husbands’ work, no matter the threat to their health in order that they could still produce more children as future workers.[xi]
  • As the number of slaves began to diminish due to the prior method of “consuming slaves to death,” colonists began to implement breeding policies, including capital punishment for contraception. But this failed and the rates of African populations in the US did not increase until the abolition of slavery and establishment of free slave communities.[xii]
  • It was not until the mid 20th century that many of the restrictive laws against women were repealed, and yet women on average still make less money than men, do not have full legal rights over their bodies and continue to suffer restricted access to holistic healthcare.


National Overview

Without preventive services, nearly 20 million women will have unsafe abortions in the coming year; related complications will injure several million women and kill nearly 70,000. With preventive services so they can plan their families, women are healthier, their children are healthier and their communities prosper.” –Elizabeth Maguire, President and CEO of IPAS

  • Annually, approximately 500,000 women die due to pregnancy-related complications, which also have disastrous effects for their children left behind. This is due in part to the nearly 215 million women who lack access to family planning options.[i]
  • Of the 95 million women ranging in age from 18 to 64, nearly 1 in 5 are insured. This is due in large part to the complicated network of various private and government insurance programs, which are incredibly difficult for even experts to navigate.[ii]
  • Women are less likely to be covered by employer-sponsored insurance than are men, with only 38% insured by their employers. This gap creates a further burden because women are more likely to have dependents who also need coverage.[iii]
  • Only 6% of women use private insurance, which often offers less coverage than that provided by employers, costs much more out of pocket, as well as having restrictions for pre-existing medical conditions which often causes denial of coverage.[iv]

  • Medicare and other government-sponsored health insurance plans only cover 3% of women under 65 years of age, of which these women are either disabled or are the spouse/dependent of military personnel.[v]
  • 18% of women under the age of 65 are uninsured because they do not qualify for Medicaid, do not have access to employer-sponsored insurance or cannot afford individual plans.[vi]
  • In women ages 25-44, HIV infection is the third leading cause of death and the main cause of death among African-American women of that same group. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and the National Institutes of Health, “These women tend to be young, poor residents of disenfranchised urban communities.”[vii]

Local Impacts

  • 50% of New Mexico’s Native women are uninsured. Comparatively, 29% of Hispanic women have no health insurance, while only 17% of white women are not insured.[viii]

  • While 12.8% of US women are reported to have “fair or poor” health status, all of New Mexico’s minority women average 19.5% in fair to poor health.[ix]
  • On average, 9.3% of Native women suffer from diabetes, as compared to the national average of 4.2%.[x]
  • In 2009, 20.6% of all women in the state of New Mexico reported not getting a routine health exam in over two years and 20.4% cited prohibitive costs as a reason for not going to the doctor.[xi]
  • 31% of all New Mexican women between the ages of 40 and 64 reported not having received a mammogram in the past two years, while 14% reported not having a pap test in the last three years.[xii]

  • 61% of New Mexican women live in an area with a primary care health professional shortage.[xiii]

  • 47% of women in New Mexico live in a county with no abortion provider.[xiv]

Low Income Women

  • Medicare, the health program for the poor, covers 10% of women under the age of 65, and only those who are considered very low income and have special qualifying circumstances.[xv] This leaves an incredible amount of low income women uninsured with no available options for health care coverage.
  • Nearly half of the 23% of Hispanic folks living in the United States in poverty are female-headed households. Add that to the 78% of Latinas lacking health insurance and you have a crisis of health coverage for low income Hispanic families.[xvi]
  • Many African American women are disproportionately affected by immigration and welfare issues that will further complicate their access to healthcare.[xvii]
  • Individual state bans could force women to have to travel to other states to get healthcare or family planning assistance, which is often not a choice available to low income women due to cost of travel, lack of extended child care and limited/unpaid time off from work.

Women of Color

  • Nearly one quarter of women of color are currently uninsured.[xviii]
  • Overall, women of color fare far worse than their white counterparts when it comes to access to healthcare.[xix]
  • Because women of color are twice as likely to have no health insurance, “women of color are more likely to need publicly funded reproductive health and family planning services,” according to Sister Song.
  • 77% of women infected with HIV/AIDS are women of color. African American women in particular are more likely to be infected and affected by the disease.[xx]
  • Despite having the lowest overall rates of HIV/AIDS (a mere 1% of all cases), Asian/Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native women have experienced the largest increase of new HIV/AIDS cases in recent years, according to the Public Health Service’s Office on Women’s Health .[xxi]
  • The lowest rates of cervical cancer screenings are held by Native American women, with Asian/Pacific Islander women coming in second for the lowest rates of screening. Of those not screened for cervical cancer in 1995, 55% were API women, 43% were Hispanic and 37% were African American.[xxii]
  • Although Hispanic women make up 10.2% of all women in the US, they contract cervical cancer at nearly twice the rate of white women.[xxiii]
  • According to the National Institutes of Health, African American women suffer very high rates of cervical and breast cancers, as well as reproductive track infections (RTIs).[xxiv]
  • Federally controlled health care limits access for the majority of Native Americans. Only 34 Indian Health Service clinics serve over 1.3million Native people throughout the United States, leaving 75% of Native people without easy healthcare access.[xxv]
  • Government suppression of traditional reproductive healthcare such as midwifery adds additional burdens to the already limited system available to many Native women in the US, according to the National Institutes of Health.[xxvi]
  • Due to lack of cultural sensitivity, mainstream health education and disease prevention efforts are largely disseminated in English, leaving vast sections of immigrant populations “in the dark” when it comes to new and improved sexual and reproductive health information. Additionally, language barriers leave many non-English speaking women with compromised healthcare.[xxvii]
  • With a historic relationship of mistrust between the medical community and Hispanic communities, use of available healthcare is still low. A National Fertility Study conducted by the Office of Population Control at Harvard University in 1970, found that 20% of Hispanic women had been forcibly sterilized. By this same time, it was found that 35% of Puerto Rican women of childbearing age had been surgically sterilized.[xxviii]

Single Mothers

  • On average, single mothers have higher uninsured rates than women in other family arrangements, made possible by their limited economic resources.[xxix]

  • 72% of single mothers live in families with incomes below 250% of poverty, forcing single mothers to regularly make difficult choices between healthcare and basic needs.[xxx]
  • The healthcare system still frames coverage in terms of nuclear families, which puts single mothers at a distinct disadvantage given that women on average earn only ¾ what men earn in annual wages; additionally, the healthcare system is based on the assumption that income is pooled between all family members and access is equal.
  • Only 41% of single mothers are covered under employer-based healthcare, compared to 68% of married women.[xxxi]

Young Women

  • 25% of young women (aged 19-29) do not have health insurance.[xxxii]
  • This lack of health insurance is especially problematic when one considers that fact that young people are at highest risk of diseases related to sexual reproductive health, including chlamydia, gonorrhea and human papillomavirus (HPV).[xxxiii]
  • Of the roughly 3.5 million pregnancies of young women per year, many are carried out without the benefit of insurance coverage.[xxxiv]
  • 60% of uninsured pregnant women are likely to delay prenatal care, 3 times more likely to experience complications after birth and 30% more likely to have newborns die.[xxxv]
  • The laws in 33 states allow health insurance carriers to charge young women higher premiums based on age, gender and health status, with no restrictions.[xxxvi] This is discrimination at its worst.
  • Many young people enter college with no health insurance coverage.
  • Colleges require health coverage but do not include it in tuition costs; an at-cost system is in effect on most college campuses, but the coverage is shoddy and does not cover contraception for young women.[xxxvii]

Uninsured Women

  • Nearly 17.2 million women are currently uninsured, which means they are more likely to have inadequate access to healthcare, receive a lower standard of care, have overall poorer health, delay filling prescriptions and go without preventative care such as mammograms and pap tests.[xxxviii]
  • Women most at risk of being uninsured are low income and women of color.[xxxix]
  • Of all groups, Latinas are most likely to be uninsured, and were especially hurt by the 1996 welfare law that reduced resources to their communities.[xl]
  • Nearly 79% of uninsured women are part of families with at least one part-time or full-time worker; nearly 62% of uninsured women are part of families with at at least one full-time worker; and only 21% live in families with no working adults.[xli]

Female Prisoners and Parolees

  • Prisoners are the only group of the US population with a constitutional guarantee of medical care, but the reality for incarcerated women stands in stark contrast.[xlii]
  • Women inmates report having to submit numerous requests for health care before being attended to, as well as disruptions in HIV medications (which can lead to drug resistance).[xliii]
  • A recent study found that reproductive health was especially susceptible to inconsistency and apathy on the part of the prison medical system; some women were required to pay for their pap test results, some were never given the results, as well as women who experienced male doctors giving exams insensitive to past sexual trauma and domestic violence.[xliv]
  • Women prisoners are regularly, and inhumanely, shackled to beds during the birthing of their children, including leg irons and metal chains across stomachs during labor.[xlv]
  • Access to abortions, which are not performed in prison, is problematic and often not available, as not all prison officials will agree to take prisoners to outside clinics to perform the procedure.[xlvi]
  • Some US court judges have coerced women into taking contraceptives as a condition of their probation or parole.[xlvii]

  • The US has a history of forced sterilization, contraception, castration, prohibition of fathering a child, pregnancy and engaging in sexual intercourse as conditions imposed by judges in both criminal and civil courts against defendants convicted of crimes having nothing to do with children or child-bearing (often the defendants had been convicted of robbery, forgery or drug possession).[xlviii]
  • Despite popular belief that procreation is constitutionally protected, circuit court judges continue to violate the Constitution by implementing conditions against procreation as a part of sentencing– most of these defendants being women of color and poor.[xlix]

Women in the Military

  • Women in the military do not have a right to medical privacy.
  • Military hospitals are not allowed to perform abortions, except in the cases of life endangerment, rape or incest. In the case of rape and incest, women must pay for the procedure out of pocket. In the case of an elective abortion, women must use leave time and pay out of pocket to travel to a country that provides legal abortion services. “Here we have an example of women serving in the military, protecting our constitutional rights, yet their constitutional right for choice was not protected,” says Rep. Carolyn Maloney.[l]
  • The Department of Defense does not provide emergency contraception to women in the military, which leaves women open to unwanted pregnancies and all of the economic and professional consequences that ensue.[li]

Lesbian, Transsexual, Transgender and Intersex Women

  • Despite the fact that lesbian women are more likely to possess graduate degrees and managerial positions, they are also more likely to be uninsured than heterosexual women.[lii]
  • Transgendered people are uninsured at one of the highest rates of any group, between 21-48%.
  • Medical forms throughout the country still more often than not only offer the gender choice of either “male” or “female.”

  • More than half of US medical schools do not offer any training on LGBTQI issues, with some only providing an average of 2.5 hours of education throughout a four year program.[liii]

  • An article in the Homosexuality Journal in 1999, found that 25% of 2nd year medical students in a believe homosexuality to be “immoral and dangerous to the institution of the family.”[liv]
  • Rates of Bacterial Vaginosis are higher in lesbian women (18-36%) than in heterosexual women (16%).[lv]

  • Young bisexual and lesbian teen girls are twice as likely to become pregnant as their heterosexual counterparts.[lvi]

  • Transgender women sex workers are more likely to contract HIV/AIDS because they are financially induced to engage in unprotected sex.[lvii]
  • Evidence exists showing that trans youth of color are disproportionately impacted the HIV/AIDS epidemic.[lviii]
  • High rates of unemployment and poverty for trans youth and trans folks of color contribute to the incidences of uninsured individuals, which increases the mortality rates and lessens the life span of transgendered people.[lix]
  • Evidence exists to show that post-operative transsexual women are likely to lose insurance coverage if their provider discovers their transsexual status.[lx]
  • Most insurance carriers in the US do not provide coverage for trans-related health care, including hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgery, etc.[lxi]
  • Some insured trans people must deal with a medical system that does not have the appropriate language to diagnose or indicate procedural codes in order to be reimbursed for their treatments; there are some insurance carriers who simply refuse to deal with transgender patients at all.[lxii]
  • For those transgender people who can’t afford the expensive mental health evaluations required before being prescribed hormones, many resort to unsafe, untested, black market hormones.

Undocumented Immigrant Women

  • Undocumented women are more likely than US citizens to live in poverty, be unemployed and uninsured, as well as lacking education about preventative care.[lxiii]
  • Publically-funded healthcare requires documentation of immigration status, thereby disallowing many immigrant women from accessing adequate care.[lxiv]
  • Many undocumented women do not access healthcare at public health facilities for fear of detection and deportation.[lxv]
  • Over 30% of immigrant households experienced a linguistic barrier to health and maternal care and services, including Pap tests, mammograms, and prenatal care.[lxvi]
  • In 2000, 85% of migrant women workers in the US were uninsured, and only 42% accessed prenatal care during their pregnancy.

Older Women

  • Because older women (over the age of 65) are more susceptible to chronic illness and are usually retired or leaving the workforce, maintaining or obtaining new healthcare coverage is often economically difficult.[lxvii]

  • Retired women aged 50 to 65 lose insurance coverage and don’t qualify for Medicare, creating a significant barrier to accessing healthcare.[lxviii]

  • Because of the current gender gap in salaries, one study estimates that after a 35 year investment, the average man’s social security portfolio would be 16% larger than the average woman’s.[lxix]

  • Women have their working years interrupted more often than men, affecting their overall social security account contributions, which means a smaller likelihood older women can afford the costs of healthcare not covered by Medicare and other supplemental coverage.[lxx]

  • Due to annuitization and the fact that women have a longer life expectancy than men, one study showed that in 2002 if a woman at the age of 65 has her life expectancy projected to be 19 years (as compared to the 15.9 years projected for a man of the same age) the woman would receive a smaller amount of benefits per months for the duration of her life. That is a smaller income replacement for women every month, simply because they are projected to live a longer life, whether that ends up being the case in reality or not.[lxxi]

Women in USAID Recipient Countries

  • Three of five of USAIDs global health goals are devoted to sexual and reproductive health issues and those policies are overtly influenced by conservative religious traditions. “… multi-faceted distortions in U.S. foreign aid based on conservative interpretations of religious tradition… undercut the effectiveness of U.S. investments in foreign aid in health, wasting scarce resources and allowing preventable illness, suffering and death to continue,” says Bonnie Shepard of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin America Studies.[lxxii]

  • In 2002, the U.S. government joined with Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Syria, and the Vatican at the UN Special Session on the Child to oppose comprehensive sexual health education and services for adolescents.[lxxiii]

  • Abstinence programs are promoted above and beyond culturally appropriate family planning and therefore threaten the security of women’s health (unwanted pregnancies, dangerous and illegal abortions, high rates of contracting STD’s, etc.)

  • Of the paltry amount promised by the US to fight the global AIDS epidemic, any organization that is part of that fight that also provides or even advocates abortions, does receive any foreign aid funding. Also, during the Bush administration, there was a push for programs to de-emphasize the use of condoms in prevention programs.[lxxiv]

  • Despite research showing that abstinence only programs are ineffective for adolescents that have already begun to engage in sexual activity, a large portion of USAID money goes to funding abstinence only programs. “The logic is perverse: since it is morally frowned on for adolescents to have sex before marriage, programs should not protect their health when they do, thus subverting the very health goals of USAID strategy.”[lxxv]

  • Despite a declaration from the World Health Organization that emergency contraception is not the same thing as abortion, conservative religious groups’ lobbying has effectively removed funding of programs that support the right of women and even rape victims to have access to emergency contraception.[lxxvi]

  • Conservative political pressure on the Center for Disease Control caused the organization to change a key HIV website, “Facts about Condoms and their Use in Preventing HIV Infection,” shifting emphasis to abstinence, condom failure rates and the elimination of the section on correct condom use.[lxxvii]

  • Another of the three goals of USAID devoted to the reproductive health of women misses the mark– programs devoted to prevention of maternal mortality. The “global gag rule” prevents any programs that receive US funds from advocating abortions, thereby assuring that women must use illegal and very dangerous means to abort unwanted pregnancies.[lxxviii]


Women have much at stake in the current health reform discussions. The steady growth in health costs has had a disproportionate effect on women because of their lower incomes and greater need for health care services throughout their lives due to their reproductive health needs and higher rates of chronic health problems. For many women, especially those with chronic health conditions, these affordability challenges have been compounded by discriminatory practices that charge women higher rates than men and don’t cover such essential services such as maternity care.” – Kaiser Foundation

As evidenced above in the section outlining this country’s European ancestry, which includes severe repression of women from the early middle ages and on through colonization, there was a gradual erosion of women’s rights throughout time in Europe. The most important element of this coup being the governments of Europe seizing a women’s right to privacy in matters related to procreation and family planning, intruding where the government had never dared before. Contraception, abortion, sexual activity of any kind became affairs of the State, and in particular, as these issues related to women. While women struggled against these restrictions courageously, they were subjected to some of the most severe and inhumane punishments for practicing personal autonomy, most often carried out through the trials and punishments of the Inquisition. This unfounded discrimination was transferred to the colonial government and absorbed by the societies of the New World.

Thankfully there have been some gains over the last century regarding women’s rights. The most notable is the gradual acknowledgement by the judiciary of the autonomy of individuals in matters related to procreation and family planning. – going so far in some cases to state that individuals are guaranteed a right to “zones of privacy” into which the government cannot intrude.[i]

Some legislative gains made in favor of women’s reproductive rights include:

  • Griswold v. Connecticut,” a 1965 case striking down a state law prohibiting the use of contraceptives by married couples.[ii]
  • Eisenstadt v. Baird followed shortly thereafter in 1972 guaranteeing the right to use of contraceptives by umarried people. The court stated in it’s decision that, “If the right to privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.”[iii]
  • In 1973 the landmark case of Roe v. Wade successfully eradicated previous laws prohibiting abortion and secured a women’s constitutional protection to choose abortion as a private matter. “Roe grounded the right to privacy in the protection of personal liberty guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and it recognized a notion of liberty that includes a woman’s right to make fundamental decisions affecting her destiny, such as whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.” [iv]
  • Also in 1973, in Doe v. Bolton, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of individual privacy and protection of the right of women to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy.[v]
  • In 1977 case, Carey v. Population Services Inter-national, the US Supreme Court struck down a law prohibiting the sale of nonprescription contraceptives to minors younger than 16.[vi]
  • In 1993, in the case of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, ruled that a state cannot block the right of a woman to have an abortion before fetal viability.[vii]

When ruling on Casey, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor made one of the most sweeping statements on Constitutional protection of personal freedom and privacy,

These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life… It is a promise of the Constitution that there is a realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter… For two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail. The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.“[1]

Despite the US proclamations of being the oldest and most successful democracy in the world, as well as the legal gains we just reviewed, the US has yet to ratify such international documents as the Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) created at the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development. The document states the clear and straightforward human rights of all women, such as the right to protection of reproductive rights and family planning choices, the right to quality standards of sexual and reproductive health and the “ability of a woman to control her own fertility as fundamental to her enjoyment of the full range of human rights to which she is entitled.”[i] How can we declare ourselves to be a land where all rights are recognized when the State cannot publically announce its intention to protect the rights of all women?

To add insult to injury, with the Obama Administration’s push for a health care reform, we’ve seen some potentially dangerous setbacks to the gains we’ve made over the years with regard to women’s reproductive rights. The reform debate has ushered in such regressive, discriminatory legislation as the Stupak-Pitts Amendment. The amendment puts a ban on publicly-funded health insurance (the new Health Insurance Exchange) coverage of abortions, and even prohibits the right of women receiving a federal subsidy to purchase health insurance that includes abortion coverage, or to pay out of pocket for abortions. The amendment attempts to placate pro-choice supporters by offering the option of a separate, single-service “abortion rider,” which either do not exist or are not readily available in many states. This amendment would force insurance companies to create two separate plans, those that cover abortion for unsubsidized individuals and those that do not for subsidized individuals, which experts say is a highly unlikely prospect. Therefore, essentially the Stupak-Pitts Amendment is a ban on abortion coverage for all women, subsidized or not, which is directly counter to what the Obama administration has promised to the country of those currently insured not losing any coverage. This amendment most adversely affects women of color and immigrant women because of their likelihood to be poorer and less likely to afford uncovered abortion procedures;  which ultimately means they are at a higher risk of seeking unsafe alternatives.[ii] The Stupak-Pitts Amendment undermines all the gains made over the last century in favor of women’s reproductive rights and is a dangerous step is this country’s reform efforts.

Another blow to the rights instituted by Roe v. Wade is the attempt to “codify” the Hyde Amendment, a ban created in 1976 preventing low income women from accessing abortion services through the federally-funded Medicaid program. With the current reform discussion, Conservative Congressional representatives are eager to prevent private insurance companies participating in the Exchange from being able to offer abortion coverage – essentially denying women the right to an abortion. And more importantly, this amendment will deny low income women and women of color safe, accessible abortion procedures.[iii]

***Health Care Reform ToolKit***

Visit Planned Parenthood’s Action Center to learn the latest updates and actions you can take part in.

Declare that you are not a “pre-existing condition by joining the new campaign of the National Women’s Law Center.

Or, go to any of these sites to find the group that’s right for you:

National Asian Women’s Health Organization

Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice

National Latina Health Network

Black Women’s Health Imperative

Center for Reproductive Rights

National Organization for Women



Women’s full participation in this country cannot be achieved without the recognition of those in power of a women’s autonomy and right to control her life circumstances, including whether, where and for how much she will work; family planning choices that incorporate access to all options including contraception and abortion; and access to the highest standards of care for any and all reproductive and general health care issues. There is no room for compromise in this cause. We have waited too long, struggled and sacrificed too much to continually have our needs put aside for the “greater good.”

We must move past our history of repression based on the perception that women cannot make informed decisions because they are “overly emotional” and irrational creatures. We must also stop thinking of women as a collective, homogenous group; women come from varied and diverse backgrounds and cultural systems that call for different ways of approaching issues. Women are fully capable of assessing their life circumstances and judging what options are most appropriate for them.

(C) 2010 By Shannon Laliberte Parks. All Rights Reserved. Please Obtain Permission to Copy.

[i] Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. Sylvia Federici. Autonomedia, 2004. p.86.

[ii] Ibid. p.87.

[iii] Ibid. p.88.

[iv] Ibid. p.101.

[v] Ibid. p.87.

[vi] Ibid. p.88.

[vii] Ibid. p.88.

[viii] Ibid. p.89.

[ix] Ibid. p.89.

[x] Ibid. p.108.

[xi] Ibid. p.111.

[xii] Ibid. p.112.

[i] “The ‘SisterSong Collective’: Women of Color, Reproductive Health, and Human Rights.” American Journal of Health

Studies, 2001. pp. 79-88. http://www.sistersong.net/publications_and_articles/AJHS_SisterSong_2001.pdf.

[ii] “Impact of Stupak Amendment on Access to Abortion Coverage and Care.” Planned Parenthood Policy Brief.


[iii] “Codifying” Hyde: How Pro-Choice is Our Government?” Abigail Eve. Change.org.


[i] “What Lawrence v. Texas Says About the History and Future Of Reproductive Rights.” Cynthia Dailard. The Guttmacher

Report on Public Policy. October 2003. Volume 6, Number 4. http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/tgr/06/4/gr060404.html.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.


[v] ACLU website. http://www.aclu.org/guardians-freedom.

[vi] “What Lawrence v. Texas Says About the History and Future Of Reproductive Rights.” Cynthia Dailard. The Guttmacher

Report on Public Policy. October 2003. Volume 6, Number 4. http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/tgr/06/4/gr060404.html.

[vii] Ibid.

[i] Reproductive Rights at a crossroads.” Elizabeth Maguire. NewsObserver.com. 12/19/09.


[ii] Kaiser Foundation Women’s Health Policy Fact Sheet. October 2009. http://www.kff.org/womenshealth/upload/6000-08.pdf.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] “Putting Women’s Health Care Disparities on the Map: Examining Racial and Ethnic Disparities at the State

Level: New Mexico.” Kaiser Family Foundation. June 2009. http://www.kff.org/minorityhealth/7886.cfm.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Kaiser Foundation Women’s Health Policy Fact Sheet. October 2009. http://www.kff.org/womenshealth/upload/6000-08.pdf.

[xvi] “The ‘SisterSong Collective’: Women of Color, Reproductive Health, and Human Rights.” American Journal of Health

Studies, 2001. pp. 79-88. http://www.sistersong.net/publications_and_articles/AJHS_SisterSong_2001.pdf.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Sister Song online. http://www.sistersong.net/.

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] “The ‘SisterSong Collective’: Women of Color, Reproductive Health, and Human Rights.” American Journal of Health

Studies, 2001. pp. 79-88. http://www.sistersong.net/publications_and_articles/AJHS_SisterSong_2001.pdf.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] Ibid.

[xxix] “Single Mothers in California: Understanding Their Health Insurance Coverage.” Roberta Wyn & Victoria D.

Ojeda. May 2002. UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. http://www.healthpolicy.ucla.edu/pubs/Publication.aspx?pubID=21.

[xxx] Ibid.

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] “What You Need to Know: Young People and Health Insurance.” RaisingWomensVoices.net.


[xxxiii] Ibid.

[xxxiv] Ibid.

[xxxv] Ibid.

[xxxvi] “Young Americans and Health Insurance Reform: Giving Young Americans the Security and Stability They

Need.” 2009. HealthReform.gov. http://www.healthreform.gov/reports/youngadults/index.html.

[xxxvii] “2004 Annual Conference on Access to Health Care, Medicare, and Social Security as Women’s Issues.” The

National Council for Research on Women. http://www.ncrw.org/research/Conference_Summaries/STEM/Healthcare.pdf.

[xxxviii] Kaiser Foundation Women’s Health Policy Fact Sheet, October 2009, http://www.kff.org/womenshealth/upload/6000-08.pdf.

[xxxix] Ibid.

[xl] “2004 Annual Conference on Access to Health Care, Medicare, and Social Security as Women’s Issues.” The

National Council for Research on Women. http://www.ncrw.org/research/Conference_Summaries/STEM/Healthcare.pdf.

[xli] Kaiser Foundation Women’s Health Policy Fact Sheet, October 2009, http://www.kff.org/womenshealth/upload/6000-08.pdf

[xlii] “Reproductive Rights in Theory and Practice: The Meaning of Roe v. Wade for Women in Prison,” Rachel Roth. 1/20/06.


[xliii] Ibid.

[xliv] Ibid.

[xlv] “Giving Birth in Chains: The Shackling of Incarcerated Women During Labor and Delivery.” Anna Clark.

Reproductive Health Reality Check. 12/6/09. http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2009/07/06/giving-birth-chains-the-shackling-incarcerated-women-during-labor-and-delivery.

[xlvi] Reproductive Rights in Theory and Practice: The Meaning of Roe v. Wade for Women in Prison,” Rachel Roth.

1/20/06. http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2006/01/b1363953.html.

[xlvii] “The ‘SisterSong Collective’: Women of Color, Reproductive Health, and Human Rights.” American Journal of Health

Studies, 2001. pp. 79-88. http://www.sistersong.net/publications_and_articles/AJHS_SisterSong_2001.pdf.

[xlviii] “Pregnancy and Reproductive Rights Related Sentencing and Probation Conditions.”



[xlix] Ibid.

[l] “Maloney: Restore Reproductive Rights Agenda.” Allison Stevens. WomensENews.org. January 26, 2009.


[li] “Military Women Should Have Full Access to Reproductive Health Care.” National Women’s Law Center.


[lii] “Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity Fact Sheet.”American Medical Student Association.

[liii] Ibid.

[liv] Ibid.

[lv] Ibid.

[lvi] Ibid.

[lvii] “An Overview of U.S. Trans Health Priorities: A Report by the Eliminating Disparities Working Group

August 2004 Update.” National Coalition for LGBT Health. http://www.lgbthealth.net/downloads/research/US_Trans_Health_Piorities.pdf.

[lviii] Ibid.

[lix] Ibid.

[lx] Ibid.

[lxi] Ibid.

[lxii] Ibid.

[lxiii] “Immigrant Women’s Health a Casualty in the Immigration Policy War.” Aishia Glasford and Priscilla Huang. National

Women’s Health Network. March/April 2008. http://www.nwhn.org/newsletter/article1.cfm?newsletterarticles_id=228.

[lxiv] Ibid.

[lxv] “The ‘SisterSong Collective’: Women of Color, Reproductive Health, and Human Rights.” American Journal of Health

Studies, 2001. pp. 79-88. http://www.sistersong.net/publications_and_articles/AJHS_SisterSong_2001.pdf.

[lxvi] “Immigrant Women’s Health a Casualty in the Immigration Policy War.” Aishia Glasford and Priscilla Huang. National

Women’s Health Network. March/April 2008. http://www.nwhn.org/newsletter/article1.cfm?newsletterarticles_id=228.

[lxvii] “MU researcher says older American women face unique barriers in healthcare.” News-Medical.net. 12/16/09.


[lxviii] Ibid.

[lxix] “Social Security Privatization: Eleven Myths,” The Century Foundation, 3/1/04, http://socsec.org/publications.asp?pubid=338.

[lxx] Ibid.

[lxxi] Ibid.

[lxxii] Shepard, Bonnie. “When Ideology Undermines Public Health: Distortions in the U.S. Foreign Aid Program.” David

Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies online.  http://drclas.fas.harvard.edu/revista/?issue_id=28&article_id=841.

[lxxiii] Ibid.

[lxxiv] Jay, Dru Oja. “AIDS, Africa and Aid.” Monkeyfist online. 3/18/03. http://monkeyfist.com/articles/838.

[lxxv] Shepard, Bonnie. “When Ideology Undermines Public Health: Distortions in the U.S. Foreign Aid Program.” David

Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies online.  http://drclas.fas.harvard.edu/revista/?issue_id=28&article_id=841.

[lxxvi] Ibid.

[lxxvii] Ibid.

[lxxviii] Ibid.