Women must work to improve access to health care

By Deborah Gilbert
News and Information Services

Rackham Auditorium was packed last Monday as hundreds of students, health professionals and supporters gathered to hear Faye Wattleton, president of Planned Parenthood in 1978–92, reflect on “Equality and Justice: Women’s Unfinished Health Care Agenda.” Her talk was part of the University’s Martin Luther King Day celebration.

“Women have come through a dark era during the past 12 years,” she said. “In that period, many of the gains related to ‘choice’ that we had taken for granted were eroded and reversed.

“African Americans, other minorities and the poor—those with the fewest resources—have been disproportionately affected by those reversals and by the repression of the federal government,” she added.

The election of President Bill Clinton offers a chance for change, Wattleton said, “but only the people can make it happen. Will he do what he said he will do, or will he say, ‘I must focus on this Saddam Hussein business?’ ”

Citing insufficient funding for AIDS research; the gag rule that bans clinic staffs, except possibly physicians, from mentioning abortion as an option; and the refusal of the federal government to legalize

RU-486, the so-called abortion pill, Wattleton said, “we must be vigilant and continue to press for change. Today is a reminder that many Americans don’t share in Martin Luther King’s dream.”

Urging women to work to de-stigmatize abortion and improve access to health care for the poor, she told the audience it is “time to clean up dirty politics by getting into it ourselves. In Michigan, you have some state legislators and congressmen who should be turned out of office. You need to get involved in the hard politics at the grass-roots level.

“We should never underestimate how our little voices speaking together can be a mighty roar,” she added.

“If we are not there making sure it’s done, it may not happen,” she said. “As we saw after the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings, political power is never bestowed; it is seized.”

Wattleton told the students and health professionals in the audience that they “inherit an obligation to do more than just pursue a career. You must foster a general understanding about the importance of health and well-being to the nation. Work for real reform in the entire health care system—not just for breaks on your insurance.”

Her talk was sponsored by the School of Nursing and co-sponsored by the schools of Dentistry and Public Health, the Medical School, University Hospitals, and the Office of the Vice Provost for Medical Affairs.


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