Women Take on Profit-Driven Health Care
The rising motion of working-class women today is not just resisting oppression and exploitation but is on a path to break the chains that bind us to outmoded social and economic structures and relations. The necessity for universal, equitable healthcare and the full measure of reproductive justice are driving women into the streets, into congress, and into political action.
Working-class women, especially African American, those in the South, first-nation (Native American), immigrant, and those with disabilities are at the center of a traumatic vortex of healthcare insecurity, grinding poverty, and rising assaults on bodily autonomy. As healthcare corporations and government edicts employ algorithms of austerity that wipe thousands off Medicaid, food stamps, and even voting rolls, the necessity for the distribution of goods and services based on need becomes politically central to life itself.
“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle,” the author Audre Lorde wrote in her book, Learning from the 60s, “because we do not live single-issue lives.” The 2018 midterm elections demonstrated just that, as record numbers of women ran for office and led grassroots organizations, unions, and more, as they hit the streets against austerity and gender-based violence. Women elevated the urgency to address the health impacts of climate change, concentration camps and family separation on the border, environmental contaminations, rising rates of suicides and addiction, and the chronic multifaceted traumas of poverty and racism.
Medicare for All! is center stage on this social agenda, signifying a polarity between the necessity for public ownership and a governmental guarantee of healthcare for all, versus corporate, private control of healthcare. Improved Medicare for All! eliminates private health insurance and replaces it with universal national comprehensive public financing for all healthcare needs. It is a compromise, in that the healthcare delivery system is not yet transformed but moves the dial by forcing the government to provide insurance for the public good, not corporate wealth.
The fight to expand Medicaid ignited electoral battles and remains a critical immediate demand. But Medicaid is crippled with southern regional inequality and is prevented from meeting the growing needs of the population, most notably the need to provide the full gamut of reproductive services that Medicare for All! includes, from comprehensive education, birthing support, to pregnancy termination if chosen.
A fierce counterattack targeting working class women was the follow up from the Midterm elections, especially the assaults on women’s bodily autonomy. Multiple states passed so-called “heartbeat” laws that effectively outlaw abortion.
These “heartbeat” bills are dog-whistles to ferment a social base for fascism and aim to overturn Roe v Wade. Georgia’s passage of the “heartbeat” bill garnered national attention coming on the heels of a Governor’s race fraught with voter suppression and refusals to expand Medicaid. The legislation bans nearly all abortion, declares the developing fetus a “person” with legal rights at six weeks of gestation. The law opens the possibility of murder charges for a pregnant woman who has an abortion, and a ten-year prison sentence for those that perform one. Alabama went even farther by banning all abortions even in cases of rape and incest.
This legislation is not pro-life. Georgia’s maternal mortality is the highest in the country and has gotten worse in the last few years at 37.2 deaths per 100,000 live births and more than twice as high for Black women. Rural hospital closures in Georgia are third highest in the country behind Texas and Tennessee. Pregnant women throughout the rural south often have to travel more than 60 miles to access prenatal or hospital care. Upward of 30 percent of rural Georgians are uninsured and 49.2 percent of all the uninsured live in the South. But the South is not alone in declining health outcomes. Shockingly the CDC reports that pregnancy related mortality in the United States has risen from 7.2 per 100,000 births in 1987 to 17.2 per 100,000 in 2015 and rising. A woman giving birth today is more likely to die in childbirth than her mother was 30 years ago! The fight for life is the fight against poverty and for quality maternal healthcare.
Maternal health is not just about abortion rights, but rather a full picture of healthy communities and reproductive justice. This is summed up by the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, “as the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children and parent the children we have, in safe and sustainable communities.” In short, basic human needs, security, and freedom from want must be assured. It is a key reason why demands for federally guaranteed healthcare is at the center of campaigns led by working class, especially low-income women. That reality is driving political contention. Electorally, voter suppression in the South has been the response.
Since the evisceration of the Voting Rights in 2013, 868 voting precincts throughout the South have been shuttered, mostly in Black and Latino communities. The successful referendum of Florida voters to restore voting rights to former felons has been decimated by Florida legislators, requiring those felons to pay fines and fees: in effect a twenty-first century version of the poll tax. Voter purges, “exact match” and other forms of voter disqualifications are still targeting already alienated impoverished southern counties. The connection between voter suppression, disenfranchisement through mass incarceration and the stunning increases in maternal mortality rates for women cannot be ignored. Reproductive justice requires not only ballot box democracy, but also true economic democracy and equality.
Control of women’s bodies is central to the rule of private property in the U.S. The supremacy of private property is rooted in slavery and the genocidal theft of native lands. The stomach-churning rape and forced pregnancy of female slaves was a staple of America’s slave system to secure the profits of plantations and their northern financiers. Children of slaves were not only future laborers, but also future commodities for mortgages, collateral and bonds, used to obtain money capital for the further expansion of slavery.
As labor-intensive agriculture succumbed to mechanization in the twentieth century, forced reproduction was turned on its head and replaced with forced sterilization. White supremacy found a powerful tool in the pseudo-social science of eugenics. The Southern Poverty Law Center found that between 100,000-150,000 poor southern women had been sterilized through 1973, half of whom were Black women. Twenty-five percent of first-nation women were involuntarily sterilized in the 1950s and 1960s. By 1968 one-third of Puerto Rican women of childbearing age had been sterilized.
From slave-based breeding, to forced sterilization, to today’s “heartbeat” laws of forced pregnancies, the overriding thread is control and domination of working-class women’s bodies. Abortion and privilege will always be available to the rich, regardless of laws. It is working class women, especially those who have been driven into absolute destitution, who bear the burden of lost bodily autonomy throughout our history. Overturning the roots of the exploitation and oppression necessitates the abolition of the corporate private property that feeds those roots. In the age of ubiquitous corporate digital technologies that can access the very biologies that make us human, revolutionary transformation becomes imperative!
Technologies: Fascism or Freedom
Today’s technologies can resurrect the content, if not the exact form of historic eugenics, or can offer unimagined possibilities for health and well-being. The use of artificial intelligence in healthcare depends on collecting big data, gathered anonymously from patients’ electronic medical records, genomic profiles, insurance and prescription records, and applying “predictive” algorithms to it. The algorithmic interpretations of these data are a reflection of existing society, including the biases of white supremacy, patriarchy and ruling class superiority. Human tissues may be collected from a variety of “routine” medical procedures and then bought, sold, and privately patented for development of corporate commodities, some redundant, some beneficial, but all only available for a price that’s indifferent to need.
The magnitude of the myriad of data being collected is astounding. Research consortiums of university health systems, hi-tech companies like IBM and Amazon, fostered by governmental policies, are pervasive. The speed and consolidation of the wholesale commodification of the resources housed in our physical bodies puts the antagonism of for-the-public-good-and-benefit versus the private accumulation of wealth in the starkest and most urgent terms.
Women who have the least are in the forefront of the movement to secure the necessities for all. The very struggle for a vision of liberation, reproductive health and healthcare for all is indispensable for political independence crucial to the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach the stars and change the world. Our time is now. RC
November.December 2019 Vol29.Ed6
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011