Oklahoma to follow Texas with ’30 mile’ abortion bill: the War on Women rages on

2013 was a bad year for the Republican Party, women-wise. Between the resurfacing of Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” gaffe and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s astonishment that God hasn’t stepped in from stopping abortion in America from running “as far and foully as it has”, they rounded off the year looking like it’s possible they might have an image problem.

Texas senator Wendy Davis

Everyone’s favourite pro-choice Texas senator Wendy Davis. Photo: Callie Richmond/Texas Tribune

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War on Women update: Todd Akin doesn’t believe in pregnancy resulting from ‘legitimate rape’

I barely knew that such a thing was possible, but Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin has given Americans another reason not to vote Republican in the upcoming election by claiming that women cannot get pregnant as a result of ‘legitimate rape’.

Todd Akin legitimate rape pregnancyUnsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before both Todd Akin and #LegitimateRape became trending topics worldwide on Twitter.

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An Obamacare victory for women: the Affordable Healthcare Act

Since my last post contained a disproportionate amount of anger, even for me – and I have been accused of having columnist’s rage – it’s nice to focus on something positive for today’s blog: Obamacare 1, patriarchy 0.

Obamacare regulations giving women access to greater healthcare and general wellbeing-related services came into effect yesterday. Under the Affordable Care Act, access to contraception and a number of other services will be included in medical insurance provisions without co-pays – ie. without having to contribute to the cost.

Under the new regulations, women will gain:

Annual well-woman visits*

Screening for gestational diabetes

Testing for HPV (human papilloma-virus)

Counselling for sexually transmitted infections

Counselling and screening for HIV

Contraceptive methods and counselling

Breastfeeding support, supplies and counselling

Screening and counselling for domestic and interpersonal violence

This is a particularly important step forward for American healthcare because:

Obamacare contraception women's healthcare regulations - Beckie Smith

The fact that such a huge number of women delay treatment or forgo basic necessities in order to pay for treatment shows just how urgent these new provisions are. It seems ludicrous to me that this should be a problem in a developed nation, and the fact that women have access to free contraception in the UK is one of the reasons I love the NHS. As someone who is often critical of the American healthcare system, I had been aware that this was a major problem even before seeing the helpful infographic above (provided by the Center for American Progress), but even so, the numbers are staggering.

I believe that universal healthcare should be a basic human right. This means free access to medical help, regardless of wealth, class or social status. Since women make up a hefty proportion of the population, it’s pretty vital to include women in this. Screening for conditions such as HIV, HPV and gestational diabetes means that conditions can be caught before the situation is desperate, allowing treatment to be administered in order to either save lives or dramatically improve someone’s standard of living. The changes, of course, not only affect women, but will have a knock-on effect on wider society.

This is not simply a question of women’s right to health. It has deeper consequences – when women are healthy and in control of their reproduction, they have more freedom and greater control over their lives. Family planning is now a key element in several NGOs’ poverty reduction strategies in developing countries, and could potentially have similar same economic benefits in the US.

The American healthcare system may still have a long way to go – and yes, I am aware that even the NHS also has its flaws – but this is a significant victory for women and American society in general. It is also a sign that the power of the religious right in US politics, which aims to curtail women’s rights and acts as a threat to secular decision-making – is diminishing. Because of this, the reforms highlight just how crucial the presidential election will be later this year:

Women's reproductive healthcare - Mitt Romney Republicans threat - Beckie Smith

These statistics are worrying, and raise questions about what would happen to American healthcare should Mitt Romney win the election in November – though this may be one of the policies which prevents them from gaining power. It might just be possible that the ‘Republican war on women‘ – which includes attacks on Planned Parenthood, the proposal of extreme anti-abortion laws as well as opposition to providing free contraception – has damaged their campaign sufficiently to prevent that from ever happening. One can only hope.

*whatever that means