Monday, August 10, 2009

Health Care Reform Must Include Reproductive Health

Regardless of whether you are one of my readers who support my positions -- or one of those who read me to find out what people like me are saying -- I'm guessing that your email inbox are full of urgent emails asking you to take action on health care reform. Just this morning, I've received emails from Barack Obama, David Axelrod, and Moveon.

I am personally sickened by the news reports of fabricated protests at town hall meetings, and do hope that you'll let your Representatives and Senators know how you feel. I also was glad to read that the White House has a new section on to response to the myths and half truths about the proposals.

One of these distortions has had to do with reproductive health care and what will happen under the new health care plan. Some have suggested that the pro-choice community is willing to remove reproductive health care as a reimbursed service from plans that already cover it. Not as far as I know.

My colleague Rabbi Dennis Ross, the Director of Concerned Clergy for Choice, has written an excellent "sermon starter" for ministerial colleagues to use in sermons on health care reform. I've copying it below as I think he did a great job of elaborating on the issues.

Clergy Backgrounder/ Sermon Starter
As clergy, we affirm that national health care reform must include access to reproductive medical services for women and families.

Our pastoral experience demonstrates the vital importance of reproductive health, which builds a foundation for healthier families and communities. Reproductive care protects the health and safety of women by reducing maternal and infant mortality, thereby safeguarding the well being of women and their families. It allows women to continue education, provide a livelihood and contribute to the growth of our economy.

Out of the recognition of the spiritual significance and responsibility to secure the health of every human being, clergy have through the years consistently supported access to comprehensive medical care that includes reproductive medicine.

Reproductive medicine is preventive care. It includes routine medical and gynecological examinations, comprehensive sex education, access to contraception and a reduction in unplanned pregnancies, obstetrical services including prenatal and post-partum care, screenings for sexually transmitted infections and cancer, as well as abortion care and non-coercive medical counseling. The lack of preventive care can allow a minor illness to grow into a major medical condition.

In sum, access to reproductive medicine that includes contraception, reduces unplanned pregnancies and abortions and helps ensure the blessing that every child is a wanted and healthy child. The services of providers like Planned Parenthood are all the more important during economic challenge when people cannot afford a medical examination or diagnostic test.
Health care clinics and organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, need to be included in any national health plan because they are part of the solution to the national health care crisis. Clergy recognize doctors, nurses and other providers as God's agents of comfort and healing; clergy refer women and families to Planned Parenthood for quality and affordable care and view Planned Parenthood as an essential community resource. One in four women who receives contraception does so at a women's health center, as do one in six who obtains a Pap test or a pelvic exam and one-third of women who receive counseling, testing, or treatment for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Planned Parenthood health centers across the country provide 850,000 breast exams annually and perform nearly one million Pap tests, identifying 93,000 women at risk of developing cervical cancer. Each year, Planned Parenthood cares for 3 million people making 10 million visits to 850 clinics nationwide. Reproductive providers are the entry point into the health care system for millions in the U. S; the only doctor or nurse they in a year is while visiting a health center like Planned Parenthood. During this economic downturn, clergy hear first-hand the anguished stories of those lacking medical access and, these days, reproductive health centers witness an increase in patients seeking a primary source of health care.

Access to health care needs to be based on science, not the personal religious beliefs of elected officials or health care providers. As clergy, we recognize that different faiths have different teachings when it comes to health care. Our experience providing counsel and support to people making medical decisions demonstrates that it makes sense to promote public polices that allow people the freedom to decide what medical care is best for them. Each individual in a diverse democracy should be allowed to draw from his or her own faith and personal conscience for guidance. Some legislators have threatened to thwart the entire health care reform initiative if abortion services are covered. Clergy from many faiths resist these attempts to undermine all national health care reform and affirm that public access to health care, including reproductive services, should be free from outside parochial biases and religious restrictions. The clergy experience providing counsel to individuals facing medical decisions demonstrates one thing; we need to give people the information they need and the access to the care, and then support them as they come to their own educated decisions about what treatments are right for them.

Health care reform should strengthen and protect women's health care, not weaken it. Women are more affected by high health care costs because yearly Pap tests, mammograms and obstetric care, for instance, require more regular contact with health care providers. This higher level of care means that women of childbearing age already spend 68 percent more in out of pocket health care costs than men. Women, men and children are equal in the eyes of God; justice demands that each of us deserves the medical care we need. Under health care reform, women must have access to the full range of reproductive health care services.

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