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« What are we thankful for this year? | Main | Health care was the winning issue! »

Election results looking even better!

More Dems win, but racist remarks unacceptable

One week after the election, the political landscape looks even better for supporters of women’s health and the Affordable Care Act than it did just a few days ago. In the U.S. House of Representatives, ACA supporters have gained additional seats in late-breaking West Coast races, while the election of two Democratic women to Senate seats previously held by Republican men in Nevada and Arizona has shrunk Mitch McConnell’s majority for 2019. Now Senate Republicans can—at most—only net a gain of 2 seats, and only if they win both outstanding races.

In Florida, a recount is underway. In Mississippi, incumbent Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith (appointed to Thad Cochran’sseat in April) is locked in a special election run-off with former Congressman Mike Espy (D-MS) scheduled November 27. This week, Hyde-Smith, a white woman running against a Black man, was videotaped joking about lynching. Our regional coordinator in Mississippi, the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, issued this statement:

"In a state well known for its shameful history related to the lynching of African Americans, Hyde-Smith has not only shown a repulsive spirit of divisiveness and extremely poor judgment, but she has also shown she is unfit to represent the people of Mississippi. Cindy Hyde-Smith must be held accountable for using words that have cut deep within the African-American community and stirred up an unyielding pain. Therefore, we call for her resignation. Our network of black women needs a leader that will stand up for their families and communities regardless of their skin color. We condemn her unacceptable language and encourage others to speak out as well.”

Instead of apologizing for her remarks, the Mississippi GOP doubled down. In his defense of Hyde-Smith, Governor Phil Bryant (R-MS) attacked Black women, labeling legal abortion a form of “genocide.” Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund Executive Director Laurie Bertram-Roberts noted the grotesqueness of his charge: “It is absurd that a governor in a state that has one of the worst maternal and infant mortality rates in the country, where it is one of the most dangerous places for women to give birth—black women to give birth, specifically—would talk about abortion being black genocide.”

RWV at the APHA Conference

This week, some of the Raising Women’s Voices staff and a few of our RWV regional coordinators are in San Diego attending the 2018 American Public Health Association Annual Meeting and Expo, “Creating the Healthiest Nation: Health Equity Now.”
Two of RWV’s cofounders, Byllye Avery and Cindy Pearson, were joined by RWV Progressive States Advocacy and Policy Manager, Ann Danforth, and Ena Suseth Valladares, Research Director for RWV’s Los Angeles-based RC, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, for RWV’s panel entitled “2019 and Beyond: Opportunities and Challenges for Women’s Health.” RWV’s presentation explored the substantial – though incomplete – progress we’ve made advancing women’s health under the ACA, and looked at the threats, setbacks, and barriers we withstood in 2017 and 2018, as well as the challenges and opportunities ahead, with a particular focus on women of color.

RWV cofounder Cindy Pearson began by discussing the current state of Medicaid expansion under the ACA. She explained the significance of Medicaid expansion, particularly in undoing the legacy of institutionalized racism associated with original Medicaid. When it was created in 1965, the Medicaid program, unlike Medicare, allowed states to set their own eligibility limits, a power that was used by certain states to reinforce Jim Crow era policies. By expanding Medicaid, the ACA sought to expand coverage to individuals who had previously been excluded from coverage. Even though a Supreme Court decision made the ACA’s Medicaid expansion optional, a number of states adopted Medicaid expansion, and even more continue to do so thanks in large part to the hard work of grassroots activists like our RCs in states including LA, and ME.  
Ann Danforth, RWV Progressive States Advocacy and Policy Manager, discussed the state-level opportunities to protect advances for women’s health and LGBTQ health, given ongoing federal threats. She discussed the work being done by RWV RCs to establish state-level reproductive health protections, prohibitions against gender rating and discriminating against women with pre-existing conditions, marketplace stabilization measures, protections for women against “junk” insurance plans that don’t cover important services like maternity care, and protections for transgender people in health care.
Ena Suseth Valladares, Research Director for RWV’s Los Angeles-based RC, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, spoke about the barriers that exist for California Latinas in achieving true economic and reproductive justice. Despite significant strides in a numbers of social indicators – including better access to health care services and better health outcomes – Latinas as a group continue to have high uninsured rates; in large part because their jobs do not offer health insurance, they do not qualify for the benefits offered, or they cannot afford the plans that are offered. As part of their work to achieve reproductive and economic justice for Claifornia Latinas, CLRJ and their colleagues have pushed for a number of anti-poverty measures within the past couple of years, including the Earned Income Tax Credit and Paid Family Leave. Despite the legislative progress, there is much more that can be done for Latinas at the state level, such as expanding existing housing vouchers, and creating rent control policies and tenant protections. The recent public charge rule provides an additional barrier to California Latinas seeking health care services.
RWV’s cofounder Byllye Avery closed out the panel by discussing how we can make progress in a divided nation by talking to people “on the other side,” who are opposed to health care coverage, reproductive justice, LGBTQ and immigrant rights. The most important thing to do, Byllye said, is to “just really listen to what they’re saying, and what they’re not saying.”  She highlighted the work of two RWV women of color-led RCs, SisterReach and the Afiya Center, talking to “the other side.” Both groups are connecting reproductive justice advocates with the African American reilgious community in Tennessee an Texas through summits, shared projects, and bible study.
During the discussion portion of the panel, panelists and the audience talked about the role stories play in changing the hearts and minds of people on “the other side,” including family members, but also policy makers. When asked how we can balance the inclusion of compelling stories with the data and research needed to back those stories up, Ena’s advice was to use stories as “the main course,” and use data as “the seasoning.”

One of RWV’s New Orleans-based regional coordinators, Women With a Vision, was also active at the Conference. Catherine Haywood, WWAV’s Community Health Promoter, presented to a packed room as part of a panel on promoting Community Health Workers as change agents in reducing health disparities or impacting social determinants of health. Catherine spoke about WWAV use of CHWs and community champions to promote the activities of and legitimize the message of Movin’ for LIFE (M4L) – a program to increase healthy living in two low-income, primarily Black neighborhoods in New Orleans, LA. Two part-time CHWs were trained in M4L activities and successfully recruited 88 champions, who extended the work of the CHWs by promoting M4L activities, including walking groups, exercise, dance and cooking classes. “CHWs are a great asset to any program because people who sit behind desks can’t truly know the communities in the way CHWs can,” Catherine told the audience.  
APHA’s closing general session: Dying too Soon: A Look at Women’s Health, will feature Linda Blount, President and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative – one of RWV’s co-coordinating organizations. The panel will explore issues around premature death in women in America throughout the life span, including through cardiovascular disease, deaths during childbirth, and domestic violence. Linda’s portion of the presentation, entitled “Black is Not a Risk Factor: Racism and Gender Bias in Maternal Health,” will focus on how the disproportionately high rates of maternal morbidity and mortality among Black women result from implicit bias, structural racism, and a lack of understanding of the lived experiences of Black women. Linda will discuss how these factors lead to Black women receiving poorer quality maternal care, and being less likely to have their peri-partum complaints evaluated, and will also offer strategies to improve Black maternal outcomes.

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