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RWVoices

Thursday
Oct172019

Raising Women’s Voices in the South! 

Raising Women’s Voices at the Community Catalyst Convening 

How do reproductive justice advocates keep going day after day in Southern states where abortion is under increasing attack and progress is slow on such priorities as expanding Medicaid? Kwajelyn Jackson, Executive Director of the Feminist Women’s Health Center (shown in photo above at left), shared her experience in the opening plenary of the Community Catalyst Southern Health Partners Convening Wednesday in Atlanta, GA.  She is the Raising Women’s Voices regional coordinator for Georgia.

“When we are up against the wall, when we are facing things that feel insurmountable, that’s when people are activated,” Jackson said, describing a “turnout like we’ve never had before” when Georgia legislators and the state’s new conservative Governor enacted a law that banned abortions after just six weeks of pregnancy. “People said: Now is actually the time for me to come forward, for me to take a stand.”

While her organization has joined a lawsuit that has secured a preliminary injunction against the abortion ban going into effect, many local people who need reproductive health care and the trans care the Center provides are not aware of that. So, she said, “We’re working to let people know we are still here. We are still providing care.”

In such a challenging environment, it’s important “not to constantly be worrying that the sky is falling,” Jackson said. “We need to be exercising that muscle of vision,” she said. “What do we want? Not just, what do we not want.” 

Organizing women voters for 2020

One area of progress in Southern states is growing success in engaging Black women voters on issues that matter to them and their families. Cassandra Welchlin of the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, the RWV coordinator in that state (shown in photo above at right), talked about the ways in which her organization is reaching infrequent Black women voters through organizing in child care centers owned and utilized by Black mothers. The children learn about voting and participate in mock elections, while their mothers learn about voting rights –such as the right to take time off work to vote -- and issues, Welchlin said, describing the child care centers as “powerhouses.”

Affordable child care emerged as a top issue (along with higher wages, access to health care, job training, domestic violence and sexual assault) in listening sessions Welchlin helped conduct among Black women in Mississippi. It was something Welchlin understood personally from her own childhood, with “my mom being a low-wage worker and taking me to work with her and hiding me in the maid closet because she couldn’t afford child care.”

Welchlin cited racial bias and “the myth of the welfare queen” as an obstacle to winning public subsidies for child care needed by women of color in order to work in low-wage jobs. As a result, she said, her work is “at the intersections of race and gender.”

Her group is one of six Raising Women’s Voices regional coordinators doing non-partisan integrated voter engagement work this year with women, LGBTQ people and their families around health care and related issues. Also engaging voters in their states are COLOR, which is reaching Latinas in the Denver area, Montana Women Vote, West Virginia Free, the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health and Women with a Vision in New Orleans. 

The importance of voter engagement was the theme of Wednesday night’s plenary session with former Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum (at left in photo below) and Supermajority co-founder Katherine Grainger (center in photo below), moderated by Community Catalyst’s new Executive Director, Emily Stewart (right in photo). 

“Women, finally in this country, are starting to harness our own power,” Grainger declared, noting that the election of Donald Trump “ignited something in women.” Women, she said, “know there is something wrong and want to do something about it.” Supermajority is organizing women as a constituency for the first time, she said, in the belief that “women will start to believe that they are the change this country needs, and it won’t happen without them.” 

The momentum from 2018 elections that sent record numbers of women to Washington, D.C., “gives us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a powerful health justice and equity movement,” Stewart said. 

Red states/Blue states: Working together to protect reproductive health 

Raising Women’s Voices Senior State Advocacy Manager Kalena Murphy and Co-founder Lois Uttley will be joined today by RWV regional coordinators Lakeesha Harris of Women with a Vision and Kathy Waligora of EverThrive IL in a workshop session on “Red States/Blue States: How Can We Work Together to Protect Reproductive Health?”Also today, Helen Zimba from the Afiya Center -- our Dallas, TX, -based regional coordinator – will discuss the Afiya

Center’s work training doulas to improve maternity care for pregnant Black women. On Friday morning, the Rev. Deneen Robinson, the Afiya Center’s Policy Director, will speak about the Center’s work trying to expand post-partum Medicaid coverage for pregnant women. Next week’s newsletter will cover their presentations.– 

Wednesday
Oct022019

Court puts Georgia abortion ban on hold; Pelosi tackles drug prices

Pelosi announces legislation to curb high prices for many prescription drugs

Prescription drug prices continue to rise despite the passing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which provides healthcare access to the most vulnerable in our communities. The inflation of drug prices presents an additional barrier to that access and a catalyst to the emerging debate in Congress around prescription drugs.

Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined House Democrats in unveiling drug pricing legislation, The Lower Drug Cost Now Act (H.R. 3).  The legislation was introduced by Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), and Representatives Richard Neal (D-MA) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) and would allow the federal government to negotiate the prices of up to 250 brand-name drugs in Medicare. Among other proposed benefits is the creation of a maximum price for any negotiated prescription drugs using the international price index; the creation and enforcing of penalties for pharmaceutical companies that are non-compliant with negotiation proceedings; and the creation of a $2,000 out-of-pocket limit on prescription drugs for Medicare recipients. These benefits could create potential savings that could be used to expand Medicare to cover dental, vision, and hearing care.

Above: Speaker Nancy Pelosi with health activists announcing the introduction of HR 3.

As the drug pricing debate moves to the forefront and takes center stage when Congress returns from recess later in October, RWV co-founder Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI) is closely following the legislation and its impact on women and people of color.

H.R. 3 has seemingly been caught in a political tsunami.  The resistance to Speaker Pelosi’s plan has primarily come from House and Senate Republicans. Some Republicans have concerns with what they believe is a rushed process in the roll out of the Speaker’s bill.  Senate Republicans also assert that prior to Speaker Pelosi’s plan there was a bi-partisan effort to develop a drug pricing bill that would now be halted.  House and Senate Republican resistance to the proposed bill coupled with the impeachment inquiry by House may stall any bipartisan work to reconcile the differences on drug pricing legislation. There also appears to be emerging concerns within House Democratic factions. Progressive leader Rep. Lloyd Doggett raised concerns and circulated a letter earlier this week that H.R. 3 could  harm the 340B program and thereby negatively impact hospitals serving the poor.

Moreover, impeachment inquiry proceedings announced last week by House Democrats may potentially create an additional barrier to any work around lower drug pricing.  Some Republicans believe that any chances of legislative progress for the country may be derailed amid impeachment proceedings.

Lastly, while House Democrats acknowledge that it may be difficult to get things done in this political environment, they assert that policy makers must continue to be responsive to the rising cost of prescription drugs.

Although the drug pricing bill measure faces opposition from congressional Republicans, President Trump has indicated a willingness to address prescription drug costs prior to the 2020 elections. The Speaker appears to be optimistic about the Administration’s support on this issue, which offers a possibility of negotiations moving forward. 

Judge temporarily blocks Georgia abortion ban

Yesterday, a federal judge temporarily blocked Georgia’s anti-abortion law from going into effect as scheduled on January 1, 2020. This summer, Feminist Women’s Health Center (FWHC), our Atlanta-based regional coordinator, and their coalition partners filed for an injunction to prevent the state of Georgia from enforcing the abortion ban. The lawsuit was filed by a wide range of health providers, including SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, the lead plaintiff, Feminist Women’s Health Center (Kwajelyn Jackson, Executive Director, second from left in photo), and Planned Parenthood Southeast, Inc.

The preliminary injunction of Georgia’s six-week abortion ban is a HUGE victory—it prevents the ban for now. And yet, the fight is not over. The injunction prevents the ban from going into effect while we continue to fight … in court.  But today, let’s celebrate this win and each other, said the FWHC in statement.  The ACLU of Georgia, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union are providing legal representation in the case. 

This is only the first step of the lawsuit, as reproductive justice advocates expect the state’s attorneys to appeal the temporary stay, and press for a full hearing.  "We are coming together in collective resistance as women of color and Indigenous women from the South to say that we will not go backwards. We refuse to go back to the days where our bodies were controlled by the state. We will continue to fight back against any policy that violates our human rights and bodily autonomy, " stated Monica Simpson, Executive Director of SisterSong (first from left in photo).

Thursday
Sep262019

Women tell DC policy makers to take action on health

Grassroots Activists Explain Intersections of our Lives to Congress

This week, Raising Women's Voices staff was on Capitol Hill to support the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, and In Our Own Voice: National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda for their first-ever joint lobby day. More than 300 women of color grassroots activists from around the country came to Washington, DC to lobby their Senate and House members on behalf of affordable health care, including abortion care, regardless of income, geography, or immigration status.

The group's efforts were focused on 1) the EACH Woman Act, which repeals the Hyde amendment and ensures that women can use their public health insurance for abortion care, and 2) the HEAL for Immigrant Women and Families Act, which repeals the ban on undocumented people's access to subsidized coverage through the ACA's marketplaces and eliminates the 5-year waiting period for immigrants to access public health programs.

Groups also urged their elected officials to oppose any final spending package that doesn't protect Title X from the Trump gag rule. Earlier this month, Senate Republicans were forced to scrap their bill to fund the Department of Health and Human Services in FY 2020 in part because the bill would have allowed the Trump rule to continue. While that's a significant victory, there's no guarantee that the final package will block the Trump rule unless advocates continue to pressure Congress. 

RWV's Sarah Christopherson (far left) and activists from NLIRH and NAPAWF at the office of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

Oral health is a public health crisis…and a women’s health issue

Four leaders in the field of oral health gathered at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC this week for a panel discussion moderated by Politico, the daily paper followed closely by DC policy-makers.  The discussion was framed as an educational and awareness-building event, designed to highlight the threat to public health caused by the persistently high rates of dental uninsurance and untreated oral disease.  The event opened with remarks by leaders from DentaQuest, which sponsored the event.  Alison Corcoran, executive vice president, described the results of a recent survey that found most Americans support Medicare and Medicaid dental coverage.

Panelists (shown below) talked about opportunities and challenges to create change that would enable everyone to get regular preventive care and needed treatment.  Congresswoman Robin Kelly, D-IL, explained that she hoped to build on the recent passage of the Dental Health Act, which provides federal funds to improve oral health services for underserved communities.  In response to a question by RWV co-founder Cindy Pearson about opportunities to improve oral health coverage for women, Congresswoman Kelly emphasized the urgent need to improve state policies to ensure that all pregnant women can get dental care and expand post-partum Medicaid coverage to a full year after giving birth.  Julie Watts McKee, who directs the Kentucky state dental program, told Pearson that a pilot project in Kentucky demonstrated that providing low-income pregnant women with dental care improved both maternal and infant outcomes.  RWV is excited about pursuing these and other policy opportunities to improve women’s health by improving oral health.  Stay tuned for more on this important issue. 

From left to right: Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL); Erica Schwartz, Deputy Surgeon General; Richard J. Manski, Chair of Dental Public Health, Univ. of MD; Julie Watts McKee, State Dental Director, KY.

The Right to a Healthy Pregnancy

“It’s a no brainer.” That was Representative John Katko’s (R-NY) description of why he co-sponsored H.R. 2694, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), a bipartisan bill to extend accommodations for pregnant women in the workplace. Last week, a congressional briefing on the bill highlighted the desperate need for legislation to protect pregnant workers from discrimination in the workplace.

Two mothers, Natasha Jackson and Jaime Cole, described how they were pushed out of their jobs and eventually terminated after requesting accommodations due to pregnancy-related restrictions placed by their doctors. Both women suffered tremendous financial and emotional hardship as a result of losing their jobs. For example, Ms. Cole had to sell her car in order to provide for her two older children.

Through the work of our regional coordinators, Raising Women’s Voices has been focused on maternal health and particularly the role that systemic racism plays in putting Black mothers at risk. Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace can be a key contributor to worse health outcomes for pregnant women and new mothers, preventing them from accessing needed accommodations, breaks, or prenatal and postpartum visits. It also has a disproportionate impact on women of color, low-income, and immigrant women. These groups of women tend to have physically demanding jobs and also depend on jobs not only for a paycheck but also health care. 

While a number of states—New York, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Washington, among them—already have similar legislation at the state level, we need a uniform nationwide standard for the treatment of pregnant women in the workplace. Women should not have to choose between having a healthy pregnancy and getting a paycheck. For more information on PWFA check out additional resources here.

Thursday
Sep192019

Kavanaugh can't hide from his lies -- reclaim the court

Reclaim the Court 

This week, reporters for the New York Times revealed that they’d spoken with multiple witnesses who could corroborate the allegations of sexual assault made last year by Deborah Ramirez against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The article also confirmed previous reporting that the FBI’s pre-confirmation investigation of Kavanaugh’s conduct had been a sham and uncovered allegations that Kavanaugh had drunkenly pushed his exposed penis on another woman when he was a college student at Yale.

The news prompted the first calls for Kavanaugh’s impeachment from prominent Democrats. Presidential candidate and Senate Judiciary Committee member Kamala Harris wrote, “I sat through those hearings. Brett Kavanaugh lied to the U.S. Senate and most importantly to the American people. He was put on the Court through a sham process and his place on the Court is an insult to the pursuit of truth and justice. He must be impeached.” 

Harris has been joined by candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and others. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) filed a resolution to require the House Judiciary Committee to initiate a formal impeachment investigation. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has tried to ignore calls to investigate Kavanaugh, focusing instead on her caucus’s as-yet-undrafted prescription drug bill—even though it, too, is likely to die in the Senate. 

On October 6, activists will meet for a previously planned rally in Washington, DC on the one-year anniversary of Kavanaugh’s confirmation to pressure Congress to do the investigation that Senate Republicans blocked in 2018. In August, the House Judiciary Committee bowed to advocate pressure—including from the National Women’s Health Network, one of Raising Women’s Voices coordinating organizations—and requested that the National Archive turnover all of the records from Kavanaugh’s time in the George W. Bush White House. Those records could reveal whether Kavanaugh lied under oath about his previous work fighting abortion rights as well as his involvement in sharing materials stolen from Senate Democrats. But that first step, while positive, isn’t enough. Serious questions remain about Kavanaugh’s mysterious finances and, of course, his misogyny and sexual misconduct.

Join the Women’s March, Demand Justice, and host of progressive advocacy organizations, including the NWHN, on Sunday, October 6 from 12:30 to 5 in Washington, DC. Additional details about the rally and a link to sign up can be found at www.reclaimthecourt.com. Transportation to Washington may be available from your state if you contact rally organizers. 

RWV welcomes Stephanie Arthur 

Stephanie A. Arthur, MPA is the newest member of the RWV coordinating team.  Stephanie is currently a legal fellow with the Black Women’s Health Imperative, working with their Chief Policy Officer on the intersections of women’s health and legislative advocacy. Hailing from the Bronx, New York, Stephanie's past work has included civic outreach to African immigrant women and children addressing issues like Temporary Protected Status, access to healthcare, equitable education, and language access. As a black woman she is all too familiar with the issues plaguing women of African descent:  reproductive justice, cardiovascular risks, environmental justice, and criminal justice reform; which are all issues centered in health and wellness. Stephanie's interest is to identify key policy issues where black women's health can be centered in the conversation in order to make meaningful legislative changes.  

Thursday
Sep122019

Uninsurance rate goes up, activists address maternal mortality

Nearly 2 million more people were uninsured in 2018, Census reports

For the first time in 10 years, the number of people without health insurance increased significantly last year, according to a report released by the U.S. Census Bureau this week. The nationwide percentage of people who were uninsured grew from 7.9 percent in 2017 to 8.5 percent in 2018, as nearly two million more people had no health coverage.

The news marked a reversal of steady progress that had been made since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in covering more and more people.  The Trump administration has worked to undermine and sabotage the ACA – first through a failed attempt at Congressional repeal and then through a series of regulatory and administrative actions. Last year was the first year in which there was no tax penalty for going uninsured, since it was removed through the Trump tax legislation.

One of the biggest increases in number of uninsured people came among low-income people who rely on Medicaid coverage, which the Trump administration has been attacking in various ways, including allowing states to impose work requirements on Medicaid enrollees. Also alarming was an increase of 425,000 in the number of uninsured children, largely due to declines in Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage. Middle-class families who earn too much to qualify for premium subsidies in the ACA marketplaces also lost coverage as rising premiums deterred enrollment. Young adults – ages 19 to 25 – had the highest percentage of un-insurance (14.3 percent, up from 13.7 percent in 2017.

States with the largest increases in numbers of uninsured people from 2017 to 2018 included Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, Texas and Washington State. Texas continued to have the nation’s highest un-insured rate at 17.7 percent. Three states did make progress in increasing the number of insured people, despite the hostile federal policies – New York, South Carolina and Wyoming.

“Even as the poverty rate falls, more Americans are uninsured, including more children, workers, and higher-income people,” wrote Katie Keith, in an analysis in Health Affairs. “Many of these trends have likely been impacted by the various policy changes or positions adopted by the Trump administration. These policies range from the ‘public charge’ rule to the approval of Medicaid work requirements (and other changes to the Medicaid program) to ongoing efforts to undermine the ACA.” She noted that there were significant increases in un-insurance among Hispanics and undocumented people.

Keith predicted that “coverage losses are expected to continue in 2019,  explaining that his is due to a number of factors, including repeal of the individual mandate penalty, the expanded availability of non-ACA plans, and the final ‘public charge’ rule.”

The Census report is likely to provide new fodder for Democratic Presidential candidates, several of whom are campaigning for Medicare for All health insurance programs. Ten of those candidates will debate tonight in Houston, TX.

Black Women’s Health Imperative speaks out about
Maternal Mortality Crisis

Maternal mortality and morbidity is a growing health crisis in the United States, impacting women of color at three times the rate of their white counterparts. Every year approximately 700 women die of childbirth related complications and many more are severely injured. The Black Women’s Health Imperative (“BWHI”) is invested in the overall wellness of Black women and the families that they care for and is taking action to address the crisis in Black maternal health.

Linda Goler Blount (pictured above), BWHI’s CEO, was a guest panelist at the Maternal & Infant Health Summit hosted by DC Mayor Muriel Bowser on Tuesday. She discussed the impact on Black women’s health of the extreme levels of stress in the work environment.  Goler explained that Black women work on average about 20% longer hours in the private sector than their white counterparts.  She believes that there’s no real benefit to their employers, but “there is a toll on that Black women’s health. If senior bonuses were tied to the wellness of employees, we would see a different workplace and better health outcomes for Black women,” stated Goler.  BWHI believes that maternal mortality will have to be addressed by looking at larger forces that undermine Black women’s health, as well as improving care for pregnant women.

During the Congressional Black Caucus meetings in Washington, DC this week, the Black Women’s Health Imperative will be presenting their research and analysis on maternal health at an issue forum sponsored by Congresswoman Lauren Underwood titled, “Healthy Mother, Healthy Communities: Opportunities and Challenges to Ending Health Disparities for Black Women.”

Maternal Health is Important Before, During, and After Childbirth

This week, the health subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on four pending bills related designed to improve maternal health policy. These legislative initiatives allocate resources to ensure mothers receive the necessary support before, during, and after childbirth.  The following bills: H.R. 1897 - Mothers and Offspring Mortality and Morbidity Awareness Act and H.R. 2902 - Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies ActH.R. 1551 - Quality Care for Moms and Babies Act and H.R. 2602- Healthy MOMMIES Act.

The Committee heard testimony from Wanda Irving, the mother of Dr. Shalon Irving (pictured below), who passed away in 2017 due to a pregnancy-related complication that occurred after she had been released from the hospital (postpartum). Shalon’s mother described how her daughter’s concerns about her symptoms were dismissed by doctors. “You [referring to Dr. Irving] just had a baby…it takes time to get used to it…you’ll be fine” is what many healthcare providers said.  Shalon Irving died 21 days after giving birth.

Other witnesses touched on related issues, including the importance of Medicaid coverage. Dr. David Nelson, an ObGyn from Parkland Hospital in Texas, talked about the importance of Medicaid coverage especially for prenatal and postpartum care. His message was reinforced by Usha Ranji, Associate Director of Women’s Health Policy at Kaiser Family Foundation, who told the Committee that federal action to extend post-partum Medication coverage beyond 60 days  is essential to prevent women from being uninsured when they are still vulnerable to pregnancy-related death. In a rare show of bipartisanship, members from both sides of the aisle were actively engaged, asking questions, and discussing related topics such as mental health, racism, substance abuse and how they impact maternal health outcomes.

Several bills addressing maternal mortality have been introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, but none are likely to move forward unless public pressure intensifies. This hearing and the information shared by the witnesses are just one important step towards policy changes that will help save lives.  For more information about how our regional coordinators are working on this issue, read our earlier newsletter on Black maternal mortality.

Afiya Center Launches Southern Roots Doula Collective!

For the past five years, The Afiya Center, our Dallas-based regional coordinator, has made a commitment to addressing Black maternal mortality in the state of Texas. Through their work, they have forced the state government to begin studying the crisis, pressed the legislature to adopt new programs to address high death rate, and begun training doulas, lay health care workers who remain with the person giving birth throughout the entire process. Last week, The Afiya Center officially launched its Southern Roots Doula Collective.

In her introduction of the Collective, Marsha Jones, Executive Director, recalled an email she received in April 2014 from the Black Women’s Roundtable explaining that the maternal mortality rate for Black women is fully three times that of white women and is on par with developing nations.

“That day I resolved that we,The Afiya Center, would work to end reproductive annihilation of Black women by Texas lawmakers legislating the removal of our reproductive freedoms. We know that saving us will require us taking control of us! Black midwives and doulas have a long and incredible history in contributing to successful birthing outcomes of Black mamas and Black babies, assuring that Black mamas and families were able to make healthy birthing decisions, to have the births of their choice, and experience this in an environment of trust maintaining their dignity” said Marsha. Thus far, the Collective has participated in three births and last week celebrated their first home birth! For more information on Southern Roots Doula Services, click here.