Today the U.S. Senate voted to give women access to preventive screenings and testing. The Mikulski amendment was accepted by a 61-39 largely partisan vote and has been proclaimed as the women’s health amendment. In all honesty, there is very little in the amendment to improve women’s health specifically. In terms of women specific items: there will be no cost sharing requirements for preventive services that women need on a routine basis. Oh yeah, every woman’s philandering hero, David Vitter (R-LA), made sure women can get mammograms despite scientific evidence that it might cause more harm than good.
A majority of the bill language is dedicated to ensuring lower income children and adolescents have access to health insurance programs. While true, women are the chief care takers in many families and are more likely to have interaction with the health care system when a child is sick. As the recent Shriver Report points out, the changing face of the American family has many more women are making up a larger portion of the workforce. The role of the woman in the family is changing.
The women’s health movement, however, is headed in a very different direction.
As Barbara Ehrenreich, a breast cancer survivor herself, pointed out in a recent LA Times Op-Ed, the feminist movement of the 1970’s has been replaced by a “pink-ribbon culture.” Used often as a marketing tool, companies have latched on to the breast cancer movement in an effort to appeal to women’s wallets, she notes. Ehrenreich asks where women were when the Stupak amendment, passed by the House, essentially stripped most women but the wealthy of their right to choice and essentially created “abortion insurance.” This begs the question, the Senate will likely begin debating an identical amendment as early as next week– where is the outcry?
Feminism hasn’t seen a united philosophy in decades. The 2008 presidential election was a political science lab test of that. Perhaps breast cancer can be that uniting force. Before it can be, women must remind the current “pink-ribbon culture” what they are fighting for. Breast cancer kills too many and can financially devastate millions of women and families. It is an horrific epidemic for which a cure is necessary. As Ehrenreich points out,
What we really need is a new women’s health movement, one that’s sharp and skeptical enough to ask all the hard questions: What are the environmental (or possibly lifestyle) causes of the breast cancer epidemic? Why are existing treatments such as chemotherapy so toxic and heavy-handed? And, if the old narrative of cancer’s progression from “early” to “late” stages no longer holds, what is the course of this disease (or diseases)?
Women must demand more equality from the health care system, our elected representatives and society, all of which have historically biased women on the pre-existing condition no one can control: their gender.
By Emma Sandoe