Women’s Health is Under Fire

Why the LGBT community needs to stand up for reproductive rights and other women's health issues in danger

Photo by Think Stock

It may seem like the LGBT community has plenty on its proverbial plate already – everything from the fight for equal marriage rights to hate crime protection and a campaign against bullying. But at a time when women’s health and reproductive rights are coming under fire in a big, dangerous way, it’s critical that LGBT people stand in solidarity with straight allies. Because if you think women’s health is somehow a straight issue, think again. And if you think the Republican party will stop at attacking women, you obviously haven’t been paying attention.

Recent comments by conservatives have outraged many – and for good reason. One one hand, we have GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum comparing womanhood to having a “mental disorder,” and on the other – a commentator like Rush Limbaugh (who seems to have immense power over a fractured GOP) is name-calling women who use contraceptives. He specifically attacked a smart, brave graduate student at Georgetown who testified on Capitol Hill as to why insurance companies should cover contraceptives. He called her a “slut.” And he proceeded to berate any woman in agreement, comparing them to prostitutes. He’s since apologized – half-heartedly, if you ask us. But the damage is done.

And then there was the panel on women’s health that curiously banned women from participating. You may have seen the images all over social media where it blew up and where people have been posting links and sharing in the outrage.

And for good reason.

If we didn’t know better, we’d swear it was the 1950s. Because what many of these moral zealots seek to do is waltz the women’s movement back more than half a century. And they’re using misinformation to do it.

Here’s the fact: No one’s asking the government to pay for birth control. People are simply asking that insurance companies cover it – an expense that can total more than $1,000 a year for a single prescription that is prescribed for many reasons – not just to prevent pregnancy, as many lesbians reading this may already know.

Yesterday, Maureen Dowd summed it up quite well in a brilliant op-ed, saying that the very things the Republican party are attacking right now are the very things they should support – like birth control to cut back on unwanted pregnancy and, in turn, abortion. But the women who speak up for these rights are being vilified for asking that contraceptives be covered by health insurance in the same way that Viagra already is.

“It’s hard to believe that not that long ago, Bob Dole, the former GOP leader and presidential nominee, was a spokesman for Viagra,” writes Dowd. “(Mother Jones pointed out that Rush, a Viagra fan, might be confusing the little blue pill and birth control, since ‘when and how much sex you have is unrelated to the amount of birth control you need.’).”

So what does all of this have to do with gay people?


Because if the Republican party is willing to risk women’s health – not to mention their votes for the sake of some puritanical pandering – do you really think they’ll hesitate to throw LGBT issues under the bus? Santorum already said he would “unmarry” married same-sex couple if elected. This is no joke.

And if the LGBT community expects straight allies to stand up for gay rights (essential for any sort of progress), the same goes for reproductive rights, especially when low-to-middle-income women’s health is at risk – regardless of sexual orientation.

In an obvious way, women’s health issues are everyone’s health issues. And in the LGBT community, it impacts lesbian and bisexual women in a real way. Even though not every woman who uses birth control does so to protect against pregnancy – you’d never know it from listening to the guys on Capitol Hill or even the Catholic Church. The attacks on Planned Parenthood also have a reverberation in the LGBT community as cuts to funding can cut back on things like early cancer screenings and other issues that impact all women – again, regardless of sexual orientation.

Another reason this is important: If religious lobbies get their way on issues like contraception and abortion (like making ultrasounds mandatory for women seeking to terminate pregnancies legally), they will also push for other exemptions based on religious objection, like refusing to abide by laws that should apply to everyone simply because of a spiritual belief system, leaving them free to discriminate against anybody and anything.

To put how dangerous this is into perspective: If this was the late 1800s and the federal government was seeking to abolish slavery on the grounds that it’s discriminatory (which it, of course, did), a religious group might be able to oppose it by claiming that the abolition might somehow contradict a religious belief. They’re already essentially doing this with gay marriage – even in eight states where same-sex marriage is legal.

Not everyone may realize how close this country came to legislating religion recently – something that could also gravely impact all the strides that have been made in the LGBT rights movement.

“On Thursday, the Senate narrowly voted down a puritanical Republican attempt to let employers and insurance companies deny coverage for contraceptives on any religious or moral grounds they could dream up,” writes Dowd. “By Friday, President Obama, who had started out fumbling the contraception issue, and the Democrats were taking gleeful advantage, raising $1.6 million to combat the GOP’s ‘war on women.'”

It’s not just a war on women. It’s a war on health and a war on scientific progress that could save lives. How this is such a threat to “family” values is beyond us.

But for the LGBT community, all of this could have very serious fall out. For instance, it could mean that a Catholic hospital may refuse treatment based on sexual orientation or gender identity (cases have already surfaced in which workers at Catholic hospitals refuse to care for gay and lesbian people because they don’t approve of “the lifestyle”). There’s also danger in church law trumping federal or state law (Santorum says he would make it mandatory that creationism is taught in schools, for instance). He also opposes prenatal testing that could save the lives of mother and child for fear of complications and pregnancy termination. Hell, he even thinks rape survivors who become pregnant should “make the best of a bad situation.” And he’s not alone by any means.

That’s why women’s health issues should be everyone’s health issues, including gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. Aside from the obvious impact these issues have on our mothers, sisters and friends, women’s health – and how well we take preemptive measures to prevent serious, life-threatening problems – these issues also impact everyone’s taxes, community welfare and society at large.

You don’t have to be a woman who sleeps with men to care about whether birth control is covered by health insurance. And you don’t even have to be a woman to care about how the future of reproductive rights are treated in this country. If the LGBT community has any hope of moving forward with issues that are important to civil rights, then it’s vital that LGBT people speak out on behalf of women’s health.

Because, sadly, a nation that is willing to put women’s health in jeopardy – is capable of anything.