Structural changes in government affect women’s health; minority groups, lower income groups to be severely affected
In his first 21 days in office, President Donald Trump made many controversial picks for his cabinet, including the appointment of Tom Price as health secretary. Price is a staunch opponent of the Affordable Care Act and an advocate for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, and members of the UC Davis community and health and human rights groups across the country are worried about the possible consequences of this appointment.
Confi is a student organization on campus that works with its parent organization, Confi.co, to promote women’s health. Members table at the Memorial Union, host on-campus events, such as an upcoming self-defense workshop for all genders, and conduct other outreach events with the community.
“[For] Prop 60 [which dealt with condom use and pornography], we wrote up our own little packet and gave it out,” said Melina Tessier, a fourth-year global disease biology major and Confi’s advocacy founder. “We also had resources from Planned Parenthood that we gave out. It was cool to have our own opinion, and to be able to voice that [in light] of how women’s health was changing.”
During the election, Confi tabled on campus and at the Davis Farmer’s Market to talk to the Davis community about public health and propositions related to women’s health in California. Post-election events have motivated Confi to continue its efforts in women’s health advocacy.
“Because a lot of things that have been happening in the current administration have to do with bigger aspects of policy and healthcare, you can’t really get into that unless you are someone in policy,” Tessier said. “So we thought about things that really impact our community […] and we’ve really just been trying to do more toward [providing] resources that can be used.”
Although there are various resources on and around campus for safe sex, according to Tessier, many people don’t know enough about them to take advantage of what’s being offered.
“There were so many people that were worried about not having IUDs and also getting IUDs right before the administration started,” Tessier said. “So we put [safe sex products] together so our community would realize the resources they have around them. In the kits we hinted towards different resources that provide these services, like the Student Health Center and various others.”
Many reproductive rights groups worry that these types of services will not be accessible if plans to defund Planned Parenthood and other preventative medicine institutions are carried out. The issue of abortion, which is highly contested due to the interplay of various religious and political sentiments, has also been in the forefront of the new presidential administration’s plan of action.
“When they close clinics or defund certain programs, the rate of abortion doesn’t go down; it’s the rate of maternal death that increases,” said Hailey Barab, a fifth-year genetics and English double major. “Abortions will still happen, they’ll just happen illegally, with no safety precautions.”
According to Barab, a Confi member who works in three different clinics around the Davis area, these clinics provide more than just abortion services.They also make preventative medicine accessible to low-income populations that might otherwise not be aware of these services.
“Taking away those resources would be taking away not just abortions, but all the other things that go with it […including] the loss of normal gynecological exams and preventing cervical or breast cancer,” Barab said. “Even if [people] go in for birth control, the provider will ask them some basic questions about pap smears and annual exams, and if they see that there’s an abnormal result, they can [take preventative measures]. If they hadn’t gone into the clinic and hadn’t been asked that question, they might not have found out they had cervical cancer.”
Teen health clinics also identify issues of mental health and address possibly harmful behaviors.
“We are mandated reporters,” Barab said. “If someone comes in who’s being abused, hurting themselves, or is [or plans] to be hurting someone else, we must report it. Also, if they talk about being depressed, we go through the PHQ2 screening, [a depression diagnostic test], and if they answer yes to the questions, we send them to behavioral health [to get help]. So again, they might come in for birth control and be seen because they didn’t know it wasn’t normal to have little interest or pleasure in daily activities.”
The defunding of institutions that help low-income communities is part of a lethal cycle that perpetuates poverty, a concept similar to what anthropologists have referred to as structural violence.
“I think it’s very cyclical, because people who are fitting to that demographic [that come to the clinic] usually don’t have education,” Barab said. “I’ve helped teach sex education at different high schools and middle schools, and I’ve met kids that didn’t know that sex led to pregnancy. Cutting funding would definitely hinder people with lower economic status — exactly those who need it more.”
Because of this complicated interplay between race, gender and class, the issue of women’s health is considered a human rights issue by many academics.
“I think that [these policy changes are a] blatant use of power, amassed power that cancels all meaning of democracy,” said anthropology professor Marisol de la Cadena. “And it’s this amassed power that’s wielded, dealt and enforced on definitely very gendered lines, with a notion of health that would reinstate patriarchy.”
According to de la Cadena, incoming policy adjustments are “not far from the idea that men should decide for women.”
“[It is] not right […] that men should make decisions for women,” de la Cadena said. “They think women are incapable of their decisions. That’s what I think may be the very harsh underpinning of these ideas.”
The Women’s March in Washington, D.C. and its sister marches across the nation on Jan. 21 are evidence that reproductive rights groups across the country are mobilizing.
“You have to fight it,” de la Cadena said. “You cannot just take it all. You have to confront the power that wants to enforce itself. You have to generate mechanisms to say no and to fight. Don’t be victims. Don’t allow the power to victimize you.”
Written By: Sahiti Vemula—firstname.lastname@example.org