Reproductive health care is a critical link in our medical system. For many people, reproductive health care is the only doctor’s visit that they will make in a year, or even several years. It is the health care and education that shapes our lives and families.
If you have pain when menstruating, is it normal or a symptom of endometriosis? What does testicular cancer look like? How many children do you want to have, and when? Most of us need reproductive health care at some point in our lives, whether it’s using birth control, screening for cancer, or maternity care.
Why then, are some politicians politicizing it for their own gain? Access to reproductive health care already depends on one’s employment status, income, child care, transportation, and other factors such as immigration status, gender, or sexual orientation – putting people at risk.
To politicize it creates an even more unequal and dangerous environment. For populations with lower incomes, reproductive health data is an important indicator of the availability of quality health care in their communities. This is especially true for rural and working-class communities that struggle with primary care access, not to mention reproductive health care.
Poor, working-class, rural, and Black women are put most at risk when reproductive healthcare is politicized. One key measurement of this is North Carolina’s rate of maternal mortality, which has doubled between 2019 and 2022, when federal funding for reproductive health care was dramatically cut.
Most pregnancy-related deaths are preventable, but if patients aren’t able to make regular visits, their health concerns can’t be addressed. The 2019 maternal death rate was 22 per 100,000 births. Within two years, it spiked to 44 per 100,000. Maternal mortality rates for Black women demonstrate massive disparities in outcomes compared to white women.
In 2020 and 2021 more than half of Black women in North Carolina who died within a year of giving birth died from pregnancy-related causes, compared to a third of white women. Most of these deaths could have been prevented if more North Carolinians had access to adequate health care.
During these same years, there were relentless political attacks on reproductive health care across the state and nation, including abortion as well as family planning services and sex education, such as:
- successive budget cuts to federally-funded community health centers;
- the loss of Title X funding for DHHS family planning programs under the Trump administration for physicians who provide or refer patients to an abortion provider;
- the loss of federal funding for sex education programs, which are proven to be effective at preventing unplanned and teen pregnancies;
- the widespread closure of rural hospitals across the country, especially in the South, due to the failure of politicians to accept federal Medicaid expansion dollars
Attacks on reproductive health care, including abortion, lead to negative health outcomes, especially for people who live in poor, working-class, and rural communities. While this is true across race, the disparity is most dire for women of color. These political attacks are leading to unjust harm against working people, who deserve the same quality of reproductive health care and sex education as people who live in metropolitan areas, have higher incomes, or live in a state where abortion is more accessible since Roe v. Wade was overturned.
As the next gubernatorial election cycle approaches in North Carolina, we must vote for the candidates who will protect reproductive health care and the rights of marginalized communities to access the care that they need and deserve.