Danielle McLaughlin: Trumpcare puts Republicans in charge of women's bodies

A woman holds up a fist during a rally and march in Manhattan to mark International Women's Day.

A woman holds up a fist during a rally and march in Manhattan to mark International Women's Day.

OPINION: Proposed changes to American healthcare law illustrate how far women still have to go in march toward equality.

​This week in the US, Republicans unveiled the first phase of their Obamacare replacement. And for low-income women, it looks to be particularly problematic. It will make it harder for participants in the program to access maternal care to aid pregnancy and childbirth, and to access contraception to prevent it.  It cuts funding to Planned Parenthood, a widely-used system of women's health clinics.  And it prohibits abortion coverage for any woman who needs government money to obtain health insurance.

Wednesday was International Women's Day. And so, the irony of this roll-out is hard to ignore. During a week where people around the world looked for evidence of how far women have come, Trumpcare smacked us on the head with the hammer of reality.

A revamp of the Affordable Care Act – known as Obamacare – could help to slow more than 200 years of progress for women, ...

A revamp of the Affordable Care Act – known as Obamacare – could help to slow more than 200 years of progress for women, writes our New York correspondent Danielle McLaughlin.

Trumpcare doesn't just hurt women relative to reproduction and maternal health.  Under the Republican plan, older Americans will pay more for healthcare than younger Americans, and women's life expectancy in the US is five years longer than men's. Under the Republican plan, the poor will pay more for healthcare than under Obamacare. The poverty rate is higher for US women than for men (and markedly so for non-white and disabled women).

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It's not that women should expect special treatment in this, or any, arena. Just equal treatment.  And the underlying tenet of any insurance program – which Trumpcare is – is that all participants contribute to a pool when they don't need coverage in order to get it when they do.  Safe drivers pay money to fund other drivers' accident bills.  Healthy people pay premiums to fund the care of people who are sick. Men pay premiums to cover health issues they'll never need (like maternity care), and women do the same for men (Viagra, anyone?).

It bears thinking about what this legislation means for American women, and how far (or not) we all have come, this week of all weeks.

For well over a millennia, women were excluded from positions of power in both civic and religious life, unless they were born into royalty.

Until about 150 years ago, Women were considered to be their husband's property without a separate legal identity. 

Noted English jurist and politician Sir William Blackstone wrote in 1765 that the "legal existence of the woman is suspended during … marriage, or at least is incorporated into that of the husband."  In the late 19th Century, the UK passed laws releasing married women from this state of legal non-existence called coverture, allowing them to own property of their own.  Similar laws followed elsewhere. 

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Voting rights, led by Kiwi suffragettes, were secured in New Zealand in 1893 but not until 1920 here in the US. 

American women were first admitted to University in 1833. Just over 40 years later, Kate Edger was the first woman in New Zealand to graduate from university. In the last four decades of the 20th century, the burgeoning feminist movement secured rights to contraception, and fought for equal opportunity in education and under in law.  Today, women are graduating from university in numbers equal to and greater than men, are heads of state, chief executives, and fill the ranks of the professions.

But life for many women around the world is still a savage existence. Brutalities committed against them include honour killings, sex trafficking, and acid attacks. In the western world, women still bear the brunt of sexual harassment and assault. And we live with the smaller, daily insults like the pay gap, the glass ceiling, and the misogyny of insults like "bossy" and "slut".

The past 200 years have seen an exponential expansion in the rights and economic power of women.  But the Trumpcare announcement this week was another reminder that we have miles to go before we sleep. 

The answer? Keep thinking critically, working, lobbying, and fighting, over injustices big and small. Why? Because success, prosperity and opportunity for women is success, prosperity, and opportunity for all.  Do it for yourself, do it for your daughter. Or your mother. Or your sister.  Until we reach the end of this road, I'll be right there with you.

Follow Danielle on Twitter: @MsDMcLaughlin

 - Sunday Star Times


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