Commentary

Be pro-access, not just pro-choice

July 15, 2022 12:02 am

Protesters gathered outside the state Capitol in Richmond on Friday, hours after the Supreme Court ruled it would overturn abortion protections established under Roe v. Wade. (Kate Masters/ Virginia Mercury)

By Sheri Shannon and Witt Hollensbe

In the days since Roe was overturned, many large companies have offered to pay for workers to travel to other states where abortion is legal. Corporate America’s assistance is among the latest patches on the country’s fraying health care system. Our hodgepodge of coverage options, dependent statuses, GoFundMe campaigns, abortion funds and medical debt have given some consumers choice but fallen short of making health care universally accessible or truly autonomous.

Likewise, many large companies have dangled their support for reproductive rights. Notably, while Starbucks announced it will reimburse abortion travel expenses, the company cannot make any guarantees about those benefits for unionized stores. Many small business workers and self-employed workers, who comprise nearly half of the private sector, have even less support receiving health care. As a small business, Shannon Strategies believes that health care, including abortion care, must be available to all of our communities. Our leaders must protect reproductive rights and expand health care coverage so that seeing a doctor does not depend on your employment, income or zip code. 

According to the Urban Institute, nearly 455,000 Virginians are uninsured, including children. This fragmented health care system is at the root of recent reproductive injustice. Many politicians, including Democrats, claim to support people’s decision to have an abortion but have also supported the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal funds from paying for abortions. Even before the Supreme Court’s decision, the Hyde Amendment made it difficult for people on Medicaid, Medicare and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to access abortion care.

So far, Virginia has gone a long way by removing many intrusive, medically unnecessary regulations on patients and clinics with state Sen. Jennifer McClellan’s Reproductive Health Protection Act. This legislation did away with mandatory ultrasounds and bogus clinic regulations designed to burden providers into closing their doors. To cut down on Virginia’s maternal and post-partum mortality rates, state legislators have also approved language to provide Medicaid for enrollees for a year after birth. Meanwhile, Gov. Glenn Youngkin has indicated he wants to undo Virginia’s reproductive protections and does not see Medicaid expansion as a positive.

The U.S. spends twice as much per patient as many other wealthy countries to receive a product that is unquestionably inferior. The CDC counts over 30 million Americans uninsured and patients have worse outcomes. From restricted abortion procedures to overpriced insulin, barriers to care are part and parcel of social inequality. Strategic litigation, addressing prejudice and changing hearts can only take us so far when the structure of our policy sickens and disenfranchises our communities.

Employment-based insurance makes people dependent on their employers, partners and families for live-saving resources. Leaving a job, a marriage or a home should not mean losing access to health care. Providing coverage at every stage in someone’s life is crucial to reducing economic exploitation and violence.

The current structure of health care is far from business friendly, disproportionately burdening small businesses and Black-owned businesses. In 2019, polling by the Commonwealth Fund found over 50 percent of small business owners indicated supporting universal health care. In Intuit’s 2022 Black Business Health Survey, Black business owners reported owing, on average, $18,000 in medical debt and were twice as likely as others to report “terrible” or “poor” financial outlooks during COVID-19. As many large companies speak out about reproductive rights, they should join their workers and the chorus of small businesses, especially those that are Black, Brown and women-owned, in demanding the full spectrum of supports necessary for people to make decisions about their bodies.

Providing health care to all people is one of the primary political projects of our time. Medicare, the closest thing America has to a national health plan, was a signature victory of the civil rights movement. Its enactment brought federal funds to nearly every hospital in America and ended formal, legal segregation by binding hospitals to Title VI’s nondiscrimination requirements. A previously segregated American Medical Association prevented further expansions of health programs, but today’s AMA has endorsed the vision of full access that the Medical Committee for Human Rights, the NAACP, the National Medical Association, and other civil rights groups pioneered. 

The legal framework of sexual and reproductive human rights surpasses simply making abortion and contraceptives accessible on the market. Pro-abortion advocates understand that civil liberties are incomplete without health care, maternal care, child care, nutrition, housing and environmental security. Without these supports, people cannot have self-determination in their sexual life, sexual pleasure and healthy relationships. 

Marginalized communities have been asking for these resources for decades. It’s past time for lawmakers to provide them.

Sheri Shannon is the owner and director of Shannon Strategies, a communications firm specializing in policy, advocacy, and progressive politics. Witt Hollensbe is an undergraduate at the University of Virginia and communications intern at Shannon Strategies.

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