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Naked City

Fighting for Women's Rights

December 6, 2002, News

Hoping to rustle up supporters to fight the anti-choice ambush expected during the upcoming Legislature, the Women's Health and Family Planning Association of Texas organized a free women's health workshop and advocacy training session two weeks ago at the Texas Medical Association. The all-day conference included a review of the legislative and budget process and a keynote speech by Jill Morrison, senior counsel in health and reproductive rights at the National Women's Law Center in Washington, D.C.

Along with the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Oregon Health & Science University, last year the NWLC released Making the Grade on Women's Health, a national and state-by-state report card that evaluates both women's health status and the policies and programs that impact women's health. On the bright side, the chunky report shows that Texas fares well nationwide in infant mortality (ninth lowest), smoking (sixth lowest), and wage gaps with men (ninth lowest). The state also has enacted some positive state policies, such as requiring private insurance coverage for mammograms and bone-density screenings for high-risk patients and recent expansion of Medicaid to include breast and cervical cancer treatment.

But as you might expect, the Lone Star State trails the nation in many other categories: 49th in women with health insurance, 48th in Pap smears, 47th in mammograms, 42nd in poverty ... you get the bleak picture. Despite the state's all-GOP, all-the-time landscape, Morrison says Texans concerned about women's health shouldn't surrender. One issue that might be amenable to legislative improvement, she says, is emergency contraception -- the morning-after pill. Pro-lifers and Catholic health organizations (including Seton, which runs Brackenridge Hospital) have deemed emergency contraception an abortifacient, though other medical experts dispute this. Framing the issue is key, she said; denial of EC not only denies women their reproductive rights but patients access to adequate health care. Morrison points to a law in Washington state that requires hospitals to give rape survivors EC on site -- without exempting religious hospitals -- as the current gold standard.

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