An edited version of this article appeared in the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on 12/15/03
Page A10, Opinion page; Copyright 2003 by Beth David

Politics and women's health can be deadly mix

Well, it happened. Feminists warned about it for decades, and now it happened: a politician made a medical decision for a woman.
Although not a reproductive decision, it was still a bodily integrity decision.

And whether or not you agree with the feeding tube getting re-inserted into poor Terri Schiavo, it simply must scare you that Governor Jeb Bush made this decision. It should scare all of us. Because if he can make this decision, he can make others.

Meanwhile, President George W. Bush has signed a law to ban some abortion procedures nationwide. There is no provision for the health of the pregnant woman. She is as absent in this law as she was at the signing of it (you DID notice that Brother George was flanked by men -- who can’t get pregnant, last I heard).

That total disregard for the woman’s health prompted a legal challenge to this mean-spirited law.

So for now, we have the legal right to end a pregnancy, barely. And for those who are squeamish about using the "A" word, or are afraid to admit that in the struggle between woman and unwanted pregnancy there is always loss and often emotional turmoil, "legal" suffices.

But for those of us who believe that a right is only a right if people can exercise it freely, barely legal is not good enough. We know that the full range of reproductive health care, which must include abortion, is not available to every woman. Money and geography rule here.

"Without access, the right is empty," says Molly Finneseth, a nurse who sits on the Board of the Women’s Health and Education Fund of Southeastern Massachusetts (WHEFSEM).

WHEFSEM provides funds for women who need abortions, but don’t have the money to get them. Since enactment of the Hyde Amendment in 1976, Medicaid does not cover abortions.

In Massachusetts, women who work in low-paying jobs with no health insurance often make too much to qualify for MassHealth. They are young women, middle-aged women, women with children, abused women, teenagers. They are your sisters, daughters, neighbors, aunts. They are women in crisis.

"If you think of unwanted pregnancy as a health crisis,” said Ms. Finneseth, "and a crisis that potentially affects half the population, I can think of no greater health crisis."

Some women have to travel out of state because Massachusetts, despite our proud medical facilities, does not provide comprehensive care for women who cannot get the money quickly.

"The longer people wait, the more it costs," states Ms. Finneseth simply. "We have women saving for abortions only to find out it costs double in the time they’ve been saving."

So activists nationwide have created abortion funds to stop money from becoming the final deciding factor in a long list of hurdles women face when seeking abortions.

"We all pay the price for women not being able to have reproductive choices," says Ms. Finneseth. "Either through financial services, or by women being treated as less."

Women being treated as less.

That’s it in the proverbial nutshell. Because at this moment in history, a man cannot be legally forced to give so much as a pint of blood to save his own living, breathing child.

But if the Bushes have their way, a woman will be forced to give her entire body over to a developing zygote — embryo, fetus, unborn child — pick your favorite term. Words do not scare me.

What scares me is that the woman making the sacrifice will be at the mercy of a politician. What scares me is that at this very moment there are women frantic, alone, desperate. What scares me is how close we are to how it used to be.

I remember an old woman I met on a street in Brookline while I handed out leaflets for an abortion rights event. She told me about her aunt who had bled to death after using a metal pick to end her pregnancy. With tears in her eyes and a pinching grip on my arm, the old woman said "Don’t let it go back to that."

We’re working on it.

You can donate to WHEFSEM at 150 Emory St., Attleboro MA 02703; or
They have no paid staff. Every tax-deductible penny pays for healthcare for women who need it.


Beth David is a freelance writer living in Fairhaven.