Photo by Amy Shamblen on Unsplash

With a number of health care rights currently under threat, a group of Senators has introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act to guarantee the right to access abortion services in the United States.

The bill would guarantee the right of a patient to access an abortion, as well as the right of health care providers to deliver such services. Importantly, the bill prohibits medically unnecessary restrictions that interfere with a patient’s choice or the provider-patient relationship.

The bill comes amid a wave of attacks on women’s health rights, including a number of new restrictions and bills aimed at limiting access to abortion care services and making it harder on women to receive abortions. Additionally, a new case at the Supreme Court throws the right to abortion up in the air.

“The rights of women to make decisions about their own health care and access the health care resources they need continue to come under attack as more states pass draconian laws to ban abortions,” Senator Feinstein (D-Calif.) said. “As the Supreme Court prepares to hear a case that could further undermine Roe v. Wade, it’s imperative that we pass the Women’s Health Protection Act and put a stop to these attempts to outlaw abortion.”

Leaders of the bill include Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla (both D-Calif.), who joined with with Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Representatives Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Veronica Escobar (D-Texas).

The bill is an urgent priority for a number of women’s rights activists and is supported across several groups, including the Center for Reproductive Rights. Over the last decade, nearly 500 state laws have been passed restricting access to abortion, according the Center. And even more recently, the Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative swing, decided to take up a case that could threaten to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The Women’s Health Protection Act is not a new piece of legislation. In fact, it was first introduced in 2013 and has been revived ever since. As the bill is brought up again, a new poll from the Center reveals a majority of Americans support access to abortion--61% of Americans support passage of a national law that protects the constitutional right to access abortion.

The bill would act as a safeguard against legislative restrictions again abortion services that have cropped up at the state level over the last decade.

“This poll sends a clear message to Congress: the majority of voters want abortion protected under federal law,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “We cannot wait any longer. If Roe falls, many states will immediately take action to make abortion a crime. Even now, with constitutional protections in place, state legislators have made it impossible to access abortion in the South and Midwest—especially for Black people and other people of color who already face barriers to health care.’"

President Biden made good on a campaign-era promise to provide access to universal health coverage and a full range of health services that women need, by omitting the Hyde Amendment in his new $6 trillion budget proposal for fiscal year 2022.

The Hyde Amendment bans the use of federal Medicaid to cover all abortions, with the exception of rape, incest, or if the abortion is life threatening to the woman. The policy has been included in government spending bills since 1976, when the rule was first introduced a few years after the Roe v. Wade judgment.

While the rule does not limit state Medicaid programs from utilizing their own funds to cover abortion care, 33 states and D.C. have extremely limited abortion coverage due to the Hyde Amendment. Additionally, 16 states use their own Medicaid funds to pay for abortions, while South Dakota has even more restrictive measures in place than federal standards.

Pro-choice advocates hailed the President’s move, calling the omission “historic.”

“A presidential budget reflects the values of an administration, and the Biden-Harris administration is sending a clear message that reproductive freedom is central to the pursuit of equity and justice,” NARAL Pro-Choice America Chief Campaigns and Advocacy Officer Christian LoBue, said in a statement.

President Biden was a fervent supporter of the Hyde Amendment during his Congressional career, but he quickly reversed course during his 2019 campaign. At a Democratic Party fundraiser in Atlanta, then candidate Biden said he was “struggling with the problems that Hyde now presents,” according to reporting from the Associated Press.

Though the omission is a win for pro-choice, the reality is that the rule will likely still be part of the budget as Congress must approve of spending. The rule is largely bipartisan and it is possible some Democrats in the Senate still want the Hyde Amendment included in the budget.

The good news is that American voters for the most part agree with the President’s stance on providing Medicaid-funded abortion coverage. Polling from 2019 shows 62% of the electorate support Medicaid coverage of abortion care services, while only 38% of voters oppose. Further stratified by demographics, 67% of Millennials, 70% of Latinx, 73% of African Americans, 66% of independent women, and 67% of suburban women voters support Medicaid coverage of abortion care.

According to some of the most recent estimates provided by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 75% of abortions performed were among low-income women and 64% were among minority women—specifically Black and Latina women. Additionally, 72% of abortion patients included young adults and teenagers who have little to no access to a steady income.

“For far too long, the Hyde Amendment has put the government in control of a personal health care decision for many people with low incomes,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement. “The policy is racist, sexist, deeply unjust, and immensely unpopular. Your ZIP code, financial situation or the type of health insurance you have should never determine what kind of essential health care services you can access, including abortion. It’s past time our federal budget reflects this essential principle.”

Women in the U.S. make 80% of the healthcare decisions for their family, but in a wildly ironic twist, they are relatively uninformed about their own health issues, a new “health IQ” quiz reveals.

Conducted by MDVIP/Ipsos, the health IQ quiz uncovered shocking statistics regarding women’s current knowledge of women’s health issues. A whopping 94%, or 9 in 10 women who are aged 20 and above, lack knowledge about key women’s health issues including heart disease, Alzheimer’s and menopause.

The shocking quiz results reveal:

  • 91% of women do not know that heart disease is the number one killer of women.

  • 81% of women do not know that Pap smears screen only for cervical cancer.

  • 69% are unaware that drinking alcohol can increase breast cancer risk.

“Women are the cornerstone of a family’s health, often acting as caregivers to their partners, children and aging parents,” Andrea Klemes, DO, FACE, chief medical officer of MDVIP, said in a statement. “But women also need to be proactive and primary advocates for their own health.”

The Root of the Problem

A corresponding survey may provide insight into why women are lacking vital healthcare education. More than 1,400 women were queried about their personal healthcare experiences, and the researchers found 1 in 3 women said they feel rushed during their medical appointments. They also reported their concerns were not taken seriously and wanted their physician to spend more time discussing women-centric health concerns.

Of those surveyed, 8 in 10 women reported barriers that prevent them from taking better care of their own health. These barriers include everything from healthcare coverage and cost, lack of transportation, time and lack of childcare.

Millennials and Gen Z receive insufficient health care, the survey reported. Women between the ages of 20 to 34, are “less engaged” with their health care compared to women of menopausal age. Younger women note scheduling appointments feels like a chore, they put off seeing a physician until their symptoms are urgent and they delay seeing physicians due to time constraints. Some report feeling too embarrassed to bring up particular health issues.

“Women should feel empowered to talk to their doctor about their numbers, their personal risk factors for disease and ways to reduce them,” Klemes noted. “If they feel their concerns are being dismissed, they should speak up or seek a physician who will take the time to listen, provide support and work collaboratively on finding solutions.”

Covid-19’s Impact on Women & Mental Health

The Covid-19 pandemic pummeled women in multiple ways, both at home and in the workplace. Approximately 44% of surveyed women said they developed “unhealthy habits” like drinking and overeating during lockdown. And 53% reported mental health concerns and said they felt stressed, anxious or depressed during the pandemic lockdown. What’s more, 41% said they felt there were times they thought they would “break down” during the pandemic.

The survey found more than half of women are worried about their mental health, but many aren’t seeking support. Of the surveyed women, 64% and 52% of women never discuss depression or anxiety, respectively.

The good news is that women have emerged tougher after the pandemic and want to make changes to better their health. About 58% said they are more resilient and are motivated to take steps to improve their health.

Nevertheless, women’s healthcare knowledge, or lack thereof, is concerning, and should cause primary care providers to figure out how to better engage women in their health care.

Take the quiz to test your own health IQ here.