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| JOHN HENRY, JR
AS WE CELEBRATE Women’s History Month, it is easy to focus on the important social and political advancements of the Women’s Movement in the United States: suffragettes fighting for the right to vote, the Equal Rights Amendment, fair pay and breaking the glass ceiling. While these are all monumental points in history, we often overlook the importance of women’s health advocates who fought for birth control, safe and legal access to abortion and preventative screenings like pap smears and mammograms. Moreover, we take these rights for granted as they are continually scrutinized and chipped away at by religious and political ideologues. We must constantly remind ourselves of the importance of these liberating advances and remain vigilant in defending and protecting them.
In 1916, Margaret Sanger opened the first clinic in New York City to offer women birth control options and family planning information. Although she was arrested 10 days later and the clinic closed, she would continue to fight for women and their reproductive right, and eventually forming the American Birth Control League which would evolve into what we know today as Planned Parenthood. Although the FDA would not formally approve the birth control “pill” until 1960, the ability of women to control their reproductive system is a cornerstone of independence and self-determination.
In 2010, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. This law expands access to preventative health screenings for sexually transmitted infections, mammograms and annual women’s wellness exams to nearly 47 million women. In addition, the ACA outlawed the practice of “gender rating,” where women could be charged more than men for the same coverage, and denial of coverage due to “pre-existing conditions,” which could include having had a Cesarean section or being the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault.
The most important take-away from this brief women’s health history lesson is that this fight is not over. Recently, Planned Parenthood was described by a South Dakota lawmaker as “worse than ISIS.” The non-profit agency that receives a small amount of federal funding provides healthcare to roughly five million clients each year, the majority of which are low-income women. Abortions accounted for just three percent of their services and no federal funding is used for these procedures. Roe v. Wade is constantly under attack including right here in Ohio. The Ohio Legislature is once again considering the “heartbeat bill” which would essentially outlaw abortions after the first detectable fetal heartbeat which can be as early as six weeks into pregnancy. Then of course there is the Affordable Care Act, which has been brought to a vote in the United States Congress over 50 times in the past five years. It is clear that we still have work to do. Do not let these most basic rights protecting the health and well-being of our friends, sisters and mothers be eroded from history.