As a privileged white male, I am no expert of women’s health but I am permitted to speak out as a husband, a father, and a grandfather. In that capacity, as I look out at the changes to the American healthcare system proposed by the Republican party, I ask myself: “Why is Congress so anxious to strip women of so much of the healthcare that allows them access to the workplace?” As I dissect through the conservative agenda put forth in the so-called American Healthcare Act (AHCA), recently passed by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, it could be rightfully be called the “Let’s Keep American Women Barefoot and Pregnant and Out-of-the-Workplace Act.”
It is clearly understood by healthcare professionals—and as a surgeon I am one of them—that healthcare is inextricably bound to the capacity and willingness of women to take a job, maintain their productivity in it, and, where possible, to advance in it. For the remainder of this discussion I will not refer to the Republican legislation as the American Healthcare Act but rather as the Un-American Healthcare Act (un-AHCA) because that is what it is. The un-AHCA allows the individual states to curtail insurance offerings in as limited and a constrained version as they choose. With 32 of the state legislatures and 25 of the states’ governorships in the hands of Republicans, one hardly needs a crystal ball to foresee what will happen. Many of them have already voted assertively to stamp out women’s and reproductive healthcare available through Medicaid.
And here’s why it shouldn’t be allowed to occur. Access to birth control is a vital part of any woman’s ability to take charge of their lives and plan them according to their needs and values. While the rich will never see their reproductive health impacted by access to birth control, an enormous percentage of poor and disadvantaged women will. This will curtail their ability to plan, guide, and obtain employment.
Secondly, women’s health is far more than about gender. The constitution of our very families is impacted by the prenatal, peri-partum,, and post-partum care our women receive. If children are born in poor health or in compromised or unanticipated deliveries, then families are burdened with emotional and financial stress. Care-giving may have to take precedence over bread-winning. Financial resources may get depleted, opportunities forsaken, and any dreams of upward mobility may have to be abandoned. That’s not one woman, or one gender, or one sector of the economy that is affected. That impacts every single American.
Thirdly, cutting off or curtailing Medicaid means that poorer women have poorer health. A recent study by Columbia University reported that 4.5% of the deaths in the United States ate related to poverty. When more women are allowed to suffer or die because of inadequate or constrained healthcare then not only do wives and mothers suffer but so do all who love them and depend on them. I cannot help but wonder how such legislation would fare in Congress if we proposed that men could not have access to prostate exams and laboratory tests that helped to diagnose prostate cancer. But that is precisely what happens when we deprive women of preventive and pre-emptive healthcare. They die more frequently of breast cancer and gynecological tumors such as uterine and ovarian cancer. This is beyond shameful. It is using healthcare as an instrument of gender discrimination.
Finally, let’s address abortion. No one—I repeat no one—ever wants to see a life prematurely ended. However, there are times when an individual woman has to be allowed to consider terminating a pregnancy. I do not intend to dictate what the needs and ethics of an individual woman will or will not tell her to do. I do, however, reserve the right to point out that no man has ever had to face such a biological and ethical dilemma within the confines and context of his own personal body. But that is something that many women must face. I will also point out—as a husband and father—that no one but the cruelest of men could ever conceive of considering rape as a pre-existing medical condition. Perhaps we should re-think everything. Make grief a pre-existing condition. Or losing one’s job. Or poverty. Or suffering from domestic violence. PTSD. Or a lack of education. Maybe all of life’s social and personal maladies should become pre-existing conditions as all can lead to an increased risk of illness or even death.
How is it that Republicans saw fit to so profoundly undermine the ability of our wives, sisters, and daughters to successfully navigate the waters of America’s economy and society? How could we males be so biased? As one American white male, watching the obstacles the women in my life have had to confront and overcome, I am ashamed that my gender could have helped to pass such prejudicial legislation. I am shocked that any woman in Congress could have supported legislation with such a hidden discriminatory agenda. This is America the ugly not the beautiful. As a man, I am profoundly chagrined by what my gender has brought about. While the women in my life have always spoken out for their freedom, I feel as if men have tried to strike a blow against it. For that reason, I profoundly ask each and every man to stand up for women’s healthcare and see the un-AHCA is struck down decisively and unequivocally in the Senate. For the sake of all the women we love and the freedoms they have every right to cherish.