Black Women Can’t Afford to Be Silent on Health Care Reform

By Guest Columnist Dec 09, 2009

By Talia Whyte This post originally appeared at The Grio. Health care reform has been a hot topic for months, but abortion rights might now actually be the deal breaker in whether or not health care legislation passes. This fight comes to a head this week on Capitol Hill, with Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson introducing a proposal that would tighten restrictions on coverage for abortions, including a ban on coverage for any health plan using federal funds. On the other side of the aisle, abortion rights proponents also don’t want federal money to be used for these purposes, but don’t want any restrictions beyond what is in the Hyde Amendment, which already denies the use of tax dollars for abortions with exceptions for incest, rape or the health of the mother. By some analysts’ accounts, Nelson’s proposal will most likely not pass due to strong resistance from liberal Democrats. Furthermore, insurance coverage for abortions is lower on the list for most Americans who care more about making sure they can be covered for more prominent health problems. However, abortion rights for Black women are yet again under siege. The abortion rate among Black women far exceeds the rate of other racial groups. According to Centers for Disease Control statistics for 2006, the last year available, Blacks account for 13 percent of the U.S. population, but Black women make up 35 percent of all women who undergo abortions annually. This rate has been roughly the same since 1973, when Roe v. Wade was decided. The Hyde Amendment itself has always been a source of outrage for pro-choice advocates, as it is seen as treating mainly low income, minority women who are dependent on Medicaid unfairly when it passed in 1976. If the current abortion amendment being headed up right now by Sen. Ben Nelson were to pass, who is not to say that tighter restrictions wouldn’t be added on at some later date? In the larger scope, the overall health concerns of Black women, who are disproportionately affected by health care inequalities in general, have indirectly been mentioned in the headlines lately, but not dealt with effectively. Two weeks ago, the United States Preventive Services Task Force came out with astonishing recommendations that women should wait until they are 50 to start getting mammograms, but there was little to no discussion about how to deal with the disproportionate rate of Black women affected by breast cancer due to later diagnosis and poor care. This is all with the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS among Black women. Another World AIDS Day commemoration came and went again with minimal mention on how to actually combat the rate in our community — sad, but not shocking. With health reform close to becoming a reality, now is the time that Black women make sure we have a seat at the decision table. Not only should we be demanding quality health care from our elected officials, but also look at what has prevented us from effectively dealing with our health within the black community, namely stigma and discrimination. We really shouldn’t allow history to be made in Washington without our say in it.