By Kelly Cassidy, Janet Howell, Constance Johnson, Yasmin Neal, Stacey Newman and Nina Turner
In a nation where independence and individual liberty are held in the highest regard, women are consistently told what they can and cannot do. In the wake of 2010's conservative wave, state legislatures are taking drastic actions to enact policies that will restrict rights, curtail choices, and mandate behaviors. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, women have achieved a small victory for access to high quality health care.
President Obama's landmark legislation will bring 30 million Americans into a health-care system that includes affordable family-planning services, improved access to contraception, and maternity care. The new federal law begins to equalize the playing field between men and women when it comes to health care. Even before the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of the Act, conservative state legislatures were systematically eroding women's reproductive rights. State lawmakers, still mired in bills that attempt to roll back health care options for women, are now expected to create health care exchanges by the end of 2013. Given the passionate ideology surrounding basic access to health care, states that have been busy revoking the rights of women will be opposed to implementing a law that guarantees women the choice to make their own health care decisions.
In Michigan, a bill threatens to shutter all reproductive health care clinics in the state with new cost-prohibitive measures designed specifically to target abortion providers. In Oklahoma, the legislature ordered doctors to jump through more hoops when prescribing mifepristone, a routine medication for early abortions. In Virginia, a woman will be subjected to costly and medically unnecessary ultrasounds prior to having an abortion -- but, Governor Bob McDonnell assures, "she is fully free to decide what she should do." In Arizona, a bill would have allowed an employer to terminate a female employee if it was determined that she was taking birth control to prevent birth. In Ohio, where a bill would criminalize abortions even in cases of rape and incest, State Representative Lynn Wachtmann dismissed criticism by saying, "Those cases are extremely rare -- I know they always point those out."
Are these policies in the best interests of American women? The same American women who fight on our front lines, raise our children, run our businesses, and comprise over 50% of our nation? We don't think so.
As state legislators who are standing up against this encroachment on American ideals of independence and personal liberty, we have joined together to refocus the discussion on the most important factor: how these policies harm women.
With combined legislative experience of over 50 years, we are appalled by the intensity and efficacy of this regressive policy agenda. In response, we have each introduced provisions that would lend parity to the myopic discussion of women's health by recognizing the opposite sex. Our policies would simply extend the same protections afforded to women to all those who carry within them the sacred capacity for human reproduction. The bills and amendments we have introduced would, among other things, protect life in its most basic form: sperm; ensure that men fully understand the potential risks of erectile dysfunction medication; and make certain that permanent surgical procedures to impair a man's essential reproductive function are mutually agreed to by him and his life partner.
The independent introduction of these provisions demonstrates that limitations and burdens placed on a woman's right to high quality health care options are a manifestation of inequality and a vestige of a more oppressive past. Seeking parity to the male-female dynamic, however, is not limited to reproductive health.
Economic equity is equally imperative in the 21st century. A woman who does the same job with the same skill and productivity as her male colleague reaps a salary of, on average, 23% less. Yet, few states have penalties for employers who engage in this discriminatory practice. The U.S. Senate's rejection of the Paycheck Fairness Act earlier this month demonstrates that achieving economic equity is not a bipartisan priority.
As women, and as men who love and respect women, we must ask ourselves: Whom do these policies support? They certainly do not support the majority of men and women who want full coverage for birth control, or the one in five women who have visited a Planned Parenthood clinic. This is a vocal minority that is gaining mainstream policy-making power, from Congress to County Council.
Each of us ran for office because of a desire to solve problems in our communities. Unfortunately, women comprise only 24% of State Representatives and 21% of State Senators. Considering this minority, it is no surprise that women's voices are routinely disregarded. The recent silencing of Michigan State Representative Lisa Brown as she attempted to speak on her amendment to a women's reproductive health bill in the chamber to which she was freely elected is an example of flagrant disrespect for the voice of women in politics.
The policies state legislatures are generating not only disregard us, they harm us. In order for women to understand what is at stake, we must get beyond politics. Real women are severely impacted by these policy decisions every day. Lives are changed, hopes halted, and dreams dashed. We are living proof that when women see problems, they stand up to solve them.
Instead of focusing on ways to limit the personal freedom of over 158 million women, elected leaders should look for ways to equalize gender health care. President Obama initiated this policy shift by prohibiting insurance companies from cost discrimination against women and providing access to preventative health care services for women in the Affordable Care Act. This victory makes November even more critical for women, who stand to lose new rights that have now been upheld by our highest court.
Women: these are problems that must be solved by you and the men who love and support you. The election of 2012 is not about talking heads or politicos. This year, it is about you.
State Representative Kelly Cassidy
Amendment to HB 4085; introduced 22 Feb. 2012
- Introduced an amendment requiring men seeking medication for ED to receive from the physician, in person, orally and in writing, information on all of the potential medical risks. Would require men to watch a "horrific video" about the side effects of Viagra before they received a prescription for the drug.
- "If we were to require informed consent for potential erectile dysfunction patients on the potential side effects and treatment of those side effects, it would be a reasonable balance," Rep. Cassidy said.
State Senator Janet Howell
Amendment to SB 484, introduced 26 Jan. 2012
- Introduced an amendment that would have required men to receive a digital rectal exam and pass a cardiac stress test before doctors wrote them a prescription for erectile dysfunction medication.
- "We need some gender equity here," Howell said.
- The Virginia Senate rejected her amendment, but both chambers passed the ultrasound requirement after clarifying that women would not be forced to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound.
State Senator Constance Johnson
Amendment to SB 1433; introduced in Feb. 2012
- Introduced an amendment declaring "any action in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman's vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child."
- Senator Johnson said that her amendment points out the "absurdity, duplicity and lack of balance inherent in the policies of this state in regard to women."
State Representative Yasmin Neal
Bill, HB 1116; introduced 21 Feb. 2012
- Bill would ban all vasectomies in Georgia except in cases where the man faces serious health risks without one.
- The bill states, "Thousands of children are deprived of birth in this state every year because of the lack of state regulation over vasectomies. It is the purpose of the General Assembly to assert an invasive state interest in the reproductive habits of men in this state and substitute the will of the government over the will of adult men."
- "No one ever talks about the male side of the issue. We just want them to know how it feels just this once," Rep. Neal said.
State Representative Stacey Newman
Bill, HB 1853; introduced 29 Feb. 2012
- The bill would only allow a vasectomy to be performed "to avert the death of a man or avert serious risk of...physical impairment," and no regard would be given to the man's desire to father children.
- "If we are going to seriously restrict access to birth control used by over 98 percent of Missouri women and widely used since 1960, then it's only fair we legislate men's access as well," said state Rep. Newman
State Senator Nina Turner
Bill, SB 307; introduced 6 March 2012
- The bill includes provisions to document that erectile dysfunction symptoms are not psychological and would guide men to make the right decision for their bodies. Physicians would be required to obtain a second opinion from a psychological professional to verify that a patient has a true medical malady before the medication could be prescribed. Notarized affidavit from a sexual partner would be required to attest to impotence. Outpatient counseling and stress test required, as is exposure to alternative forms of treatment for ED, such as natural remedies and abstinence as a positive lifestyle choice.
- "The men in our lives, including members of the General Assembly, generously devote time to fundamental female reproductive issues--the least we can do is return the favor. It is crucial that we take the appropriate steps to shelter vulnerable men from the potential side effects of these drugs," Senator Turner said.
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