Maternal Health and Reproductive Rights Were a Cornerstone of the Women’s March on Washington

Avital Norman Nathman

On January 23rd, two days after demonstrations supporting women’s rights, President Donald J. Trump reinstated and expanded the U.S. government’s Mexico City Policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule. The expanded policy blocks foreign NGO’s that receive any type of U.S. global health assistance from using their own resources to: provide medically appropriate information and referrals for abortion services, perform abortions, or advocate for access to abortion services. In the coming days, we’ll share more about the implications for women globally when it comes to accessing healthcare.

On Saturday, January 21st, over five million people from around the world marched for the rights and the health and safety of women, families and marginalized communities.

The official Women’s March page made their mission and unity principles clear:

“We believe that Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights. We must create a society in which women — including Black women, Native women, poor women, immigrant women, disabled women, Muslim women, lesbian queer and trans women — are free and able to care for and nurture their families, however they are formed, in safe and healthy environments free from structural impediments.”

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I attended the Women’s March in Washington, DC, which brought together over one million people, all there to fight for women’s rights. The hundreds of thousands of posters and signs present at the March showed the span of issues folks were concerned with from reproductive health/rights to maternal health, immigration, trans-rights, LGBTQ rights, racism, Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and more. The main thrust behind all of it, though, remained constant: equity and equality for all.

The issue of reproductive rights is one of the unifying principles of the official Women’s March organization:

“We believe in Reproductive Freedom. We do not accept any federal, state or local rollbacks, cuts or restrictions on our ability to access quality reproductive healthcare services, birth control, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, or medically accurate sexuality education. This means open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education.”

Many of the women and men I spoke with at the march were there because they understand that women’s healthcare has always been something that has been attacked. Governments across the globe have continuously legislated women’s bodies, from telling them what they can or cannot do to them, to failing to address and fix the actual problems that impact women and infants.

The sign I created and carried expressed some of the things I was there for: reproductive health care and maternal health care. The U.S. already has one of the worst maternal death rates among industrialized nations and it is unfortunately growing. Our country is currently ranked 60th in the world for maternal health. While it spends more on health care per capita than any nation in the world, the U.S. is the only developed country where maternal mortality has consistently been on the rise for the last 25 years — a period during which global maternal mortality rates have dropped by 40 percent. We have yet to hear from the new administration how they will attempt to combat this.

Women’s March on Washington, January 21st

What we do know is that the new administration is planning to defund Planned Parenthood, potentially making access to pap smears, birth control, breast exams, and other general reproductive care difficult for low income women. This is particularly troubling given the deep inequities in our country related to women’s health, particularly as they relate to income, poverty and race — with poor women of color at significantly higher risk for maternal death and disability.

Many of the women I spoke with were concerned about the repeal of the ACA and how that will impact their own health, especially without knowing what type of replacement plan is being considered. The ACA has helped millions of women, and now many of them are worried what the future holds. In addition to the 9.5 million women who were uninsured now have coverage, the ACA mandates that all plans within the marketplace and many outside of it must cover maternity and newborn care, a crucial benefit that aids many women and families, especially those at higher risk for maternal health complications that could be assuaged with quality prenatal care.

Others were worried that without the ACA, their right to have a breast pump covered by insurance and their right to pump at work would be taken away. While some states have their own policies in place to protect working mothers who pump, not all do, and those women will be left vulnerable once the ACA is repealed.

We know the risks of women who can’t afford to receive prenatal care. We know that not being able to afford to pay over $20,000 in birth costs can do to a family. These aren’t unknown variables.

The men and women I encountered at the march were there fighting for their families. The ones they have and the ones they’re planning for. They were there because they are afraid we are rounding a corner to a place where women’s health in this country will be further under attack than it has ever been before.

And they’re not standing for it. No. Their feet, as well as millions of others, will be marching for what’s fair, right, and necessary.

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