The truth about women’s health

Women’s health is all over the news. And, mostly, not in a good way.

I wish more people would talk about women’s health, if they were getting the facts right. But they’re not.

Some people are misinformed while others are simply not telling the truth. Either way, it’s dangerous for women.

First, there’s the willful ignorance or outright lies of people pushing their own agenda, be it political or ethical. No, Rick Santorum, abortions do not cause breast cancer. And no, Karen Handel, we don’t believe you really care about women’s health. People with the power to influence others should be held accountable for the misinformation they spread. It hurts women, especially those who need assistance the most.

The truth about women's healthBut there’s also a woeful lack of knowledge among women themselves, who deserve better education and a world where the difference between truth and myth is abundantly clear. If we don’t give women the information they need to stay well, they’re going to get sick. It’s as simple as that. It’s dangerous to women — and expensive to every aspect of our healthcare system. Paying for prevention is significantly less expensive than paying for treatment.

I can’t cover every issue related to women’s health in a single blog post, so I’ll just tackle three points.

1. The Department of Health & Human Services mandate that religious organizations serving the public must provide birth control coverage to their employees.

I understand that people of certain faiths don’t believe in birth control or abortion, and I respect that. No one’s forcing them to opt for either. However, I’d like equal respect for my choice to use birth control because I don’t want to get pregnant. But that aside, millions of women rely on birth control for health reasons. Is it better they bleed to death from a gynecological condition that could be treated with birth control pills? Or perhaps they should have a hysterectomy instead. How are those “choices” humane, let alone cost-effective?

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius did an excellent job explaining the balance the HHS worked to find that would respect a majority of people’s rights in this op-ed. People seem to be ignoring that there are exemptions for certain religious organizations. By the same token, many insurance plans cover Viagra. I honestly would like to know: How many religious organizations include coverage for Viagra in their employee healthcare plans? Seems to me that male impotence would be an excellent form of natural birth control.

2. Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s defunding (and, last I heard, refunding for 2012) its support of breast health care at Planned Parenthood.

Disagree strongly though I do with the actions of some of Susan G. Komen’s leadership, I’m not wasting energy being angry. I’d rather use that energy to stand with Planned Parenthood. For countless women, Planned Parenthood is the only place they can get preventive care. And claims that Planned Parenthood exists primarily to provide abortions simply are not true. That service only makes up 3-4 percent of the work they do. Their primary focus is on prevention and wellness and, yes, providing birth control. Yet there are people who don’t even want Planned Parenthood to offer birth control, which is the best way to prevent pregnancy. Let’s be honest: People will have sex. And the more access women and men have to birth control, the less chance there is that they will be faced with an unwanted pregnancy. This article from Slate makes that case extremely well.

The truth about women's healthJust how ignorant are people about what Planned Parenthood does? Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana was reportedly up in arms about an article by The Onion saying Planned Parenthood was opening an Abortionplex. I shouldn’t have to say that this isn’t true, but it isn’t. (Rep. Fleming, The Onion is satire. Please learn the facts. Also, work on your sense of humor.)

There are plenty of other women’s health issues that many politicians and elected officials are just not well-informed enough about. Perhaps they should have to pass a basic health sciences test before trying to pass legislation that affects women and their health. And women’s health should never, ever be used as a political weapon. No one’s health should be politicized.

3. Troubling signs that women aren’t nearly as educated about their health as they could be.

I think many organizations are doing a great job of providing information to women about their health and wellness. However, there’s clearly a need to do more. President Bartlet tweeted, “Scariest thing to come from the #Komen debate? The women I’ve heard who don’t know the difference between a breast exam and a mammogram.” Margaret Hooper responded, wisely, “Sounds like a sad side effect of a lack of access to proper medical care, sir.”

This conversation has had me thinking about women’s access to good healthcare — and healthcare education — ever since. I just read a report that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers found a shocking lack of knowledge among teenage mothers. Yes, it might seem obvious that teenagers get pregnant because they’re not making good choices. But only half of the 5,000 teens surveyed used birth control, many due to lack of access, and others believed countless myths including this horrifying one: drinking bleach after sex prevents conception. (Source: The Week, Feb. 10, 2012.)

The truth about women's healthWe must do a better job educating women of all ages about their health and their options. I personally want to do more in this regard, so I’ll be sharing good information about women’s health when I see it. For starters, I recommend following womenshealth.gov on Twitter. I also encourage and welcome input on other good resources for information.

It’s impossible to make an educated choice about your life — reproductive or otherwise — without knowledge. It’s also dangerous for people to make or believe false claims out of ignorance.

We can all be smarter about women’s health. Let’s start here: Women’s health is not a political issue. It’s a personal and human one that nearly everyone could be better-informed about.

Let’s focus on people, not politics.

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4 thoughts on “The truth about women’s health

  1. Great article, Elsie. As you point out, the battle to defend women’s health is largely one of information vs. misinformation and even disinformation, and I applaud you for fighting this fight and inspiring me and others to do the same. Knowledge really is power, and by allowing children to go out into the world ignorant of the realities of sex and birth control–hoping they’ll simply abstain because you told them to–is basically ensuring that they won’t have the power to protect themselves. Thanks for shouting it from the mountain! You rock. :)

    • Thanks so much, Marti. Knowing my post might inspire others to help improve education about women’s health means as much to me as your very kind words. Always appreciate you reading and responding to my posts!

  2. valeriekeefe says:

    At Elsie’s request, I need to add an aside here:

    Not everyone with a uterus is a woman. Not every woman has a uterus, or for that matter, mullerian reproductive organs. (Ovaries, vagina, etc.) There are trans women and there are women who have other intersex conditions (I think we can agree that having a female neurological sex and testes is an interesex condition by any legitimate metric.)

    So while abortion rights are largely directly affecting women, they also affect some men directly. And some groups of women have an even greater set of obstacles to their health.

    You think it’s hard getting an abortion in Mississippi? Most assuredly. But compare that to being a trans woman and getting Exogenous Endocrine Intervention (more commonly known as hormone replacement therapy) in Washington.

    And yes, even the much maligned viagra is important to the reproductive health of some women, though it’s a fairly small subset.

    For more of a backgrounder on trans reproductive health, I’ve also written a couple of articles over the last year…

    http://valeriekeefe.livejournal.com/33946.html

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/valerie-keefe/sopa-transition-medicine_b_1218684.html

    • Valerie, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge on this — a critical part of everyone being better-educated is sharing information. I look forward to reading the articles you included and continuing to learn more. Your input is very much appreciated.

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