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« Court puts Georgia abortion ban on hold; Pelosi tackles drug prices | Main | Kavanaugh can't hide from his lies -- reclaim the court »

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.

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