Health and Justice Now: California Women of Color Demand Health Care for All

By Guest Columnist Nov 12, 2009

By Rocio Córdoba and Destiny Lopez During Saturday’s historic vote on health care reform, the House jeopardized the health and well-being of women with the passage of the Stupak amendment, which would eliminate abortion coverage from both private and public health plans participating in the insurance exchange. The continued fight for affordable and comprehensive health coverage for all must not place women’s health and lives on the negotiating table and leave us worse off. The Senate, and the White House, must now take bold action to stave off further attacks from those wishing to make the health care battle solely about access to abortion. 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. Take Lynda, a 27-year-old from Lake County who recently called the ACCESS reproductive healthline. Lynda was 19 weeks pregnant, uninsured, and having trouble finding affordable prenatal care. She wanted to carry her pregnancy to term, but wondered if she should just have an abortion since prenatal tests are expensive without access to insurance. Lynda is not alone in her struggle to access affordable health care. 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. Reform legislation under consideration has the potential to alleviate the health challenges faced by California’s low-income women of color and their families. Or – it can make longstanding inequities even more harmful to women’s lives. As such, we call on our Senators and the White House to continue the fight for coverage that includes the broad spectrum of reproductive health services; is truly affordable, including a strong public option; and covers all people residing in the United States. While the majority of California’s House delegation unwaveringly protected women’s health by voting no on the Stupak Amendment, certain members of Congress succeeded in treating abortion services differently than any other type of health care. Given California’s leadership in providing access to family planning and abortion care to all women, regardless of income, our Senators must ensure that the final Senate health care reform bill treats abortion care similarly and that California’s efforts in this area are not undermined. The House should be commended for passing legislation that does not discriminate against undocumented immigrants in the exchange. The final legislation must not leave millions of immigrants without health coverage by excluding undocumented immigrants from eligibility for health insurance and continuing to make lawful immigrants wait five years before they are eligible for Medicaid. Such measures would have a devastating effect on California’s immigrant communities, including over 5 million immigrant women. No woman should have to make the kind of choice Lynda faced. Our gender, the color of our skin, our immigration status or our ability to pay should not mean that we are disregarded as our nation attempts to fix its broken health care system. We must continue to ensure that women of color and their communities do not become bargaining chips on the road to reform. We urge our Senators and the White House to act now and create lasting change that will allow our families and communities to thrive. Rocio Córdoba is Executive Director of California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, a statewide organization based in Los Angeles. Destiny Lopez is Executive Director of ACCESS/Women’s Health Rights Coalition, a statewide organization based in Oakland.