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Day of Action for Women's Health 1/13/2010

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Women (and men) who believe that women's health care should be "safe, fair, and covered," have the opportunity to make their voices heard today by joining in a chorus demanding that women's bodies and health be respected.

As the average American tries to make sense of the constantly shifting health plan and attendant debates, one issue remains crystal clear. Women's reproductive rights are being used as a football and bargaining chip in the fight to secure a long awaited health care bill.

The Women's Media Center, whose tag line is "Making Women Visible and Powerful in the Media," has created a site with a full menu of tools to encourage people to get proactive. With a strong graphic presence in black and red, icons direct the visitor to venues including petitions to sign, how to connect with elected representatives, and insights from the National Women's Law Center (They coined the phrase "Being a Woman Is Not a Pre-Existing Condition").

The Get Informed link, identified by a light bulb, gives a timeline with the most recent developments on the legislative voting, dating from November 7, 2009. The list of facts on the health care bill is link-rich, and encourages visitors to go off-site for additional information.

In an example of the how the power of Social Media can be harnessed, ways to connect on Facebook, Twitter, and "Tell Your Friends" are encouraged.

Contacting Jehmu Greene, President of the Women's Media Center, by e-mail, I asked her for some back-story on the evolution of the "Not Under the Bus" platform. She responded,

"We oppose legislation that throws women under the bus, which both the House and Senate bill now do. There are major fixes that need to happen, and we will continue to work to fix anti-woman provisions in health care. Our goal is to keep working to rescind the Hyde amendment and to pass the Freedom of Choice Act to guarantee reproductive justice to women."

Jessica Arons, Director of the Women's Health and Rights Program at the Center for American Progress, explained it to me why she believes it is so important for people to "speak up right now."

"The final bill is being hammered out in the next week. Originally, pro-choice groups tried to be nice and work out a compromise on the Hyde Amendment because they realized how important health reform is. But hard line abortion opponents refused to play fair and meet in the middle. Yet we're the ones being asked to take one for the team and accept brand new restrictions on abortion coverage. We've compromised enough by agreeing to extend the Hyde Amendment to the new exchange and we can't bend anymore.

The House and Senate bills not only apply the Hyde Amendment to a new group of women - everyone participating in a new health insurance exchange - the bills also impose federal restrictions on abortion coverage under private health plans for the first time ever.

I think the intent of both bills is to encourage private health plans to drop abortion coverage. The Stupak Amendment in the House bill only allows a plan that includes abortion coverage to be sold to people who can pay 100% of their premiums themselves. That's only 14% of people participating in any new health exchange. No insurer is going to offer a product that only 14% of the market can purchase. And the Senate language that Sen. Nelson insisted on would make insurers charge enrollees two separate premiums each month - one for abortion coverage and one for everything else. There is absolutely no justification for this rule if your only concern is to keep taxpayer money from going to abortion, since neither premium would come from the government. The only reason to require a rule like that is to make it so cumbersome that insurers and enrollees don't want to be bothered with it, and decide to deal only with plans that exclude abortion.

Regardless of what the new health market looks like, it will be large enough to influence the rest of the market (i.e., the employer market). Even though abortion coverage in employer plans is the norm right now, if insurance companies decide to drop abortion coverage from their plans in a national or state exchange, they may also decide to drop it from their employer-sponsored plans. If either of the Stupak or Nelson provisions makes it into the final health bill, abortion-inclusive coverage could become much more difficult to obtain in the new health insurance market and eventually in every health insurance market."

In creating a process by which women can learn, act, and empower themselves, the "Not Under the Bus" action day encourages those who want to be heard a simple and direct way to become part of the dialogue.

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