Opinion: Stop politicizing women’s health

By Vicki Cowart

Like many women across Colorado and the nation, I am outraged and perplexed about the birth control debate taking place in todays political climate.

First, there was the all-male congressional hearing on the Obama Administrations new birth control benefit that ensures women have access to birth control with no costly co-pays, regardless of where they work.

The Republican Congressional leaders refused to let any woman speak in support of the new birth control benefit during that hearing. In fact, they said that a woman affected by the policy wasnt appropriate or qualified to speak on the issues. As a symbol of this shameless position, a photo of five men testifying before the House panel went viral online in a matter of minutes.

Then came the legislation proposed by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-MO, that would give employers the power to deny women insurance coverage for contraception or anything they morally object to which could include life-saving cancer screenings or STD testing or treatments. Thankfully this amendment was defeated by a narrow margin late last week.

Of course, our work is not done. Opponents of womens health are now considering their next move to undermine womens access to birth control and other essential health care.

Where it used to be Roe that anti-choice politicians railed against, now its birth control, access to health care and a womans right to privacy. It is 2012! These issues should not be in question.

Ninety-nine percent of sexually-active women in the United States use contraception at some point in their lives including 98 percent of Catholic women. In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation Tracking Poll, 60 percent of Americans support the Presidents birth control benefit, as do 60 percent of Catholics. Women know that birth control is basic health care and directly linked to improving a womans health. If a woman is healthy, she is more likely to have a healthy baby and a healthy family. Birth control allows a woman to plan whether and when to start a family and how many children to have. Birth control allows a woman to space her children, which promotes the well-being of her entire family. More fundamentally, birth control allows a woman to participate in society equally, allowing her to pursue educational, professional, and economic goals.

A national debate about birth control in 2012 undermines decades of progress. At the core of these discussions is the suggestion that women dont know better, that we are ill-informed and incapable of making our own decisions about our own health.

All male contraception hearing

Several states have seen invasive ultrasound laws that serve no other purpose than marginalizing women and second-guessing their ability to make decisions about their own body. Several other states are fighting personhood amendments, which would outlaw abortion and prohibit hormonal-based contraception and IUDs.

Here in Colorado in the 2008 and 2010 elections, voters overwhelmingly rejected the idea of personhood, which would have granted full legal rights to a person defined as the union of an egg and a sperm, with 70 percent of the electorate voting against it in every single county. Despite defeating the measure by 3-to-1 margins both times, Personhood Colorado has announced it will attempt a third time to get personhood on the 2012 ballot. Even though the proponents of this measure claim to have a new strategy and new language this year, this amendment is just as dangerous and deceptive as before. Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains will once again use every tool at its disposal to defeat the personhood amendment. Already, we are leading the legal challenge to the ballot title and have taken our argument to the Colorado Supreme Court. We know that Coloradans believe health care decisions should be made by the individual and the families involved, not by politicians.

Thankfully, several members of Colorados Congressional delegation decried the Blunt amendment and in doing so, led the rallying cry for women across the nation. We thank Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet and Rep. Diana DeGette for calling out politicking when they saw it. They know that the new health care law should ensure that Americans, including American women are better off after health care reform than they are today and certainly not take away benefits women already rely on. (The new federal rule on birth control is consistent with Colorado law, which already requires contraception coverage in health insurance plans.)

But just think it was only weeks ago when the national office of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation decided to halt funding to Planned Parenthood affiliates. The public outcry in response was intense and sent a shockwave across the nation with a clear message: Keep politics out of womens health care. Have we not learned any lessons from the Komen fallout?

Even if opponents of womens health care didnt learn from the Komen experience, we must.

I call on you today to speak out! Contact your legislators and let them know that its time we start focusing on solutions that actually keep women healthy. Use blogs, Twitter and Facebook to spread the word and encourage the women in your lives to share their concern at being dragged back to a time when their voice didnt matter and their choices werent their own. Visit sites like Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado to get involved or go to http://www.coalitiontoprotectwomenshealth.org/ to share your story and add your voice to ensure that womens health care is about whats good for women not politicians!

In these tough economic times, more women than ever need access to essential health care services. Planned Parenthood has been here for 95 years, helping generations of women who need us. Despite the loud cries from a vocal and out-of-touch minority, Planned Parenthood will continue to stand up for women and support women for another 95 years. Join us!

Vicki Cowart has been president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains since 2003.PPRM is one of the largest Planned Parenthood affiliates in the country.

Opinions communicated in Solutions represent the view of individual authors, and may not reflect the position of the University of Colorado Denver or the University of Colorado system.