[Nicole Brodeur] Wins for women in reproductive health care

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Dec 17, 2018 - 16:55
  • Updated : Dec 17, 2018 - 16:55

Christmas is days away, but women got a couple of early presents -- one from local medical researchers and the other from the highest court in the US.

I would say, “You shouldn’t have,” but here’s my truth: “What took you so long?”

The first gift is a contraceptive gel for men being tested by the University of Washington. When applied daily on the upper arms or shoulders, it can effectively reduce sperm production within eight to 16 weeks -- taking some of the birth-control burden off women’s shoulders in the process.

And let’s be clear: It’s a burden. Pills, implants, shots, patches and rings. And men? Condoms.

“We are neglecting 50 percent of the population with our current methods,” Dr. Stephanie Page, a UW School of Medicine endocrinologist and the study’s principal investigator, told my colleague Paige Cornwell. “There’s every reason for men to be more engaged.”

Dr. William Bremner, a UW professor of medicine who is directing the trial, said in the same story that there has long been a social bias against birth control for males: “Among other things,” he told Cornwell, “there’s been a perception that pregnancy is ‘the women’s problem’ in some people’s view.”

I’d like to point out that Bremner referred to pregnancy as a “problem.” But he can do that because he’s a man. Women say that and they’re heartless trollops.

As for the “some people” he refers to? They’re the politicians who consistently stand in the way of women getting affordable reproductive health care.

Which brings me to the US Supreme Court. It too showed some goodwill toward women this week when it declined to hear a case brought by two Republican-led states seeking to end Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide women’s reproductive health services.

Jennifer Allen, CEO of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called the court’s decision to pass on the case “absolutely a major victory.”

“And not just for Planned Parenthood,” she added, “but for the patients who rely on Medicaid. It’s a major victory against a draconian attempt to end the care of some of the patients who need it the most.”

While three conservative justices dissented and were willing to hear the case, it was two other conservatives who went along with the court’s liberal justices and gave Planned Parenthood this unexpected pass: Roberts and none other than Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

I have no idea why Kavanaugh didn’t push to hear the case.

Neither did Allen: “We don’t know what Kavanaugh was doing or thinking,” she said. “But a vote to avoid a case is a long way from an opinion.”

National Public Radio’s longtime Supreme Court correspondent Nina Totenberg said the decision “strongly suggests that a majority of justices, led by (Chief Justice John) Roberts, would like to keep a low profile this term,” especially after the turmoil of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings.

I’d like to think that maybe, just maybe, more people are seeing the good in Planned Parenthood’s work. That while a portion of its services are abortions, it also provides cancer screenings, prenatal services, birth control and ultrasounds. Better to fund it and keep millions of low-income women healthy than put them -- and therefore their families -- in physical and financial straits.

If Kansas and Louisiana were seeking to punish Planned Parenthood for providing abortion services (even though the law already prevents federal funding for the procedure), they didn’t think things through. By cutting Medicaid funding for things like birth control, you’re only increasing the likelihood of unwanted pregnancy -- and the abortions that these state legislatures fight at every turn.

Allen noted that a Fox poll conducted earlier this year found that Planned Parenthood had a 58 percent approval rating, while the National Rifle Association’s popularity had dropped to 49 percent of respondents.

“So we know folks understand the importance of Planned Parenthood in the health care safety net,” Allen said.

And while it’s “great” that men may have another tool to prevent pregnancy, she said, “We are definitely not able to let our guard down.

“Women are still the ones who get pregnant. And we can’t trust that people like Brett Kavanaugh won’t do everything he can to take away women’s constitutional right to seek an abortion.”

For now, for this week, for this moment, though, I am grateful for these two gifts: the possibility of men sharing what has traditionally been a woman’s responsibility, and a court that could have tossed low-income women in two states into a health care abyss, but didn’t.

It doesn’t take much to make us happy. But make no mistake: We deserve more.

By Nicole Brodeur

Nicole Brodeur is a Seattle Times columnist. -- Ed.

(The Seattle Times/Tribune Content Agency)