03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Stupak: The Worst Case Scenario for Latinas

As the Congress wrestles with health care reform this week, a record number of California women of color and immigrant activists continue to impact the debate by flooding our Senators with phone calls after months of pressing California's representatives through our Health and Justice Now! campaign. Our message: health care reform must protect access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion services coverage, and ensure that all Californians are covered.

The House version of health care reform that passed last month created a worst case scenario for Latinas and women of color by effectively banning abortion coverage through any insurance plan that does business with the government. Both the Senate and the House bills continue to contain provisions that exclude millions of immigrants from accessing the health coverage they need and deserve. In the Senate deliberations, we urge our leaders to seize this critical opportunity to regain moral ground in this national debate: health care is a human right, and no Californian should be left behind.

Low-income women of color and their families, in particular, have much at stake and an urgent need for reform. The current system has created tremendous challenges for us as mothers, sisters and daughters who are the primary coordinators of health care for our families. Consistent, persistent and historical health disparities demand that women of color be front and center on the road to reform.

The voices of women of color must be at the forefront of the public dialogue on health care reform. It's not enough for politicians to talk about the uninsured, they must demonstrate their leadership and take action. Over 2.9 million California women under the age of 65 were uninsured in 2007. And, while women of color comprise over half of the state's non-elderly women, we are disproportionately uninsured. If you are a young or immigrant woman of color, you are at even greater risk to lose or lack health insurance. Latinas have the highest uninsured rates across all racial and ethnic groups. In fact, nearly forty percent (39.3%) of Latinas of all ages are uninsured compared to 13.4% of white women.

Despite these statistics, the House of Representatives jeopardized women's health by passing its health care reform with exclusionary measures such as the Stupak-Pitts Amendment that will effectively ban abortion coverage in the new health insurance system.

As reproductive justice advocates, we know first hand that policies to reform health care must help eliminate the reproductive health inequities that persist among Latinas and other underserved women of color. Access to health coverage is a critical component in promoting the ability of women, their families, and communities, to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.

Fixing our broken health care system can only be achieved if every person living in the United States has equal access to health care. It is not only fair, but good policy to allow everyone who wishes to purchase insurance the ability to do so, including immigrants. For California, the inclusion of immigrants is not only critical to the state's economic survival but more importantly a moral imperative. Millions of immigrants -- including over 5 million immigrant women in California -- are in danger of being excluded from accessing the health coverage they need and deserve under provisions included in both the Senate and the House bills. California's economic crisis has devastated the safety net, leaving those with the least resources, particularly immigrants, with very few options.

Together, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice and our partner ACCESS/Women's Health Rights Coalition called upon thousands of California women of color and immigrant activists to right this wrong and collectively raised our voices during a statewide day of action to demand that health care reform efforts include the needs of women and immigrant communities. But this is only the most recent step in the Health & Justice Now! campaign that has been growing in momentum and force. As long as our communities' health and lives are at stake, our voices will continue to remain strong.