A False Choice in Virginia and Everywhere: Pitting ‘Health Care’ Against Reproductive Health Care


Gov. Terry McAuliffe ran a campaign to stop the attack on reproductive rights, and that meant something. After all, Virginia is a place where “personhood” legislation and a requirement to report miscarriages to the state have been earnestly considered and where laws have been passed requiring women to obtain an ultrasound prior to receiving an abortion. Another is designed to shut down abortion clinics by forcing them to adapt their facilities to follow expensive and medically unnecessary regulations. These laws were supported by McAuliffe’s Republican predecessor, Bob McDonnell.

And so it was not with just a little bit of discordance when McAuliffe turned around and chose to retain the member of McDonnell’s cabinet most closely associated with implementing his anti-choice laws: Secretary of Health and Human Resources Bill Hazel. “I am confident that Secretary Hazel will be the best steward to help me carry my agenda forward and meet the challenges we face when it comes to health care in this commonwealth,” McAuliffe said. Listening to McAuliffe and Democrats in the state legislature, Hazel is supposed to be the guy who can help McAuliffe deliver Medicaid expansion to Virginia.

There is sound reason to greet this claim with skepticism and, as previously published in RH Reality Check, dismay. The facts are what they are: Republican House of Delegates Speaker William Howell has not changed his song. “Medicaid expansion is the wrong approach,” he wrote in a commentary for The Free Lance-Star some time after the Hazel pick was announced. Just in case you didn’t get the message, his piece is titled “A Time for Magical Thinking: Responsible Alternative Must be Found to Expanding Medicaid.”

Reproductive rights advocates in Virginia, of which I am one, are being told to move on, and many are. There are decent reasons to do so: Hazel has a new boss who has pledged to stop attacks on reproductive rights. And, to indulge in the hopefully not-so magical thinking on the Democratic side of the Virginia legislature, Medicaid expansion is incredibly important.

If Medicaid is expanded under the Affordable Care Act, 400,000 Virginians stand to gain access to health care. Under a broader reproductive justice lens, which centers economic justice, racial justice, and human rights in calling for not just “choice” but the support required for maintaining healthy pregnancies and raising healthy families, Medicaid expansion is a no-brainer for just about everyone. Except, of course, Republicans in the legislature. As someone who opposed Hazel’s retention, I see no reason not to wish him very well—and support him—in the quest to turn that around.

But the selection points to a broader reality that reproductive rights advocates need to acknowledge: Pitting expanded access to ‘health care’ against reproductive rights is a false choice. For one thing, health care doesn’t live up to its own name if it segregates and excludes the medical needs—including abortion, contraception, and family planning—of some because of the discriminatory belief systems of others.

Further, whether it’s Terry McAuliffe retaining Bill Hazel or the Obama administration crafting work-arounds for contraceptive coverage, Democrats have a persistent track record of preemptively “compromising” on reproductive rights to supposedly allow health care to move forward for “the greater good.” This allegedly brilliant strategy has not satisfied the right. The bishops and their allies in the public and private sector are still pushing to kick expanded access to contraception out of Obamacare. In another instructive example, Congress just held another hearing on additional abortion funding restrictions, although Obamacare already holds several new “compromise” restrictions on abortion funding adopted with the blessing of Democrats who thought that would make the Republicans accept Obamacare.

It’s time to confront the rotten bacon: The Republican party is opposed to making health care accessible and affordable for more people. Restricting reproductive rights isn’t going to change that. It hasn’t worked. It’s not going to work. This party will keep opposing health-care programs offering support to the poor and the middle class, and this party will keep distracting everyone from that charge by loudly screaming that more restrictions on reproductive rights are needed. This is, we’re told, what a “pro-life” agenda looks like.

Health care versus reproductive rights is a false choice, and it’s reasonable to expect so-called friendly elected officials will keep on giving reproductive rights advocates this ridiculous option in future legislative battles, while expecting us to go along and get along because we must understand how important health care is. There is a gender dimension to this concern-trolling: Since the majority of reproductive rights advocates are women, it’s only natural under a sexist mindset that we would be expected to care for others first if presented with a conflict between caring for others and caring for ourselves.

It is possible to recognize this for the foolishness it is, and demand all of the above.

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  • shelley abrams

    I want to thank you so much for writing this. As an abortion worker in Virginia, I was also dismayed and frankly disgusted by the reappointment of Hazel. After watching McAuliffe run political ads relentlessly for six months on how disturbing the previous administration’s restrictions on abortion were, to then turn around and keep Hazel was a middle finger to the very women who got him elected. This man did not win by a wide margin, so the pro-choice vote is surely what won him the election. I’m tired of voting for the lesser of two evils. I’m tired of the Democrats treating abortion rights as a throw away issue when it is convenient because they assume prochoice voters will turn out for them no matter what. Until we deny Democrats the vote when they don’t show they value it, we will have no power. And power in politics is everything.
    Sometimes situations have to get drastically worse before they get better. What is happening to our rights now by voting Democrat and expecting to be betrayed is a slow death. By with holding our vote, things will get worse more quickly, but at least the Democrats will take notice. We are losing our rights either way because we haven’t shown our power.

  • Shan

    How is it that they can’t comprehend that increasing access to affordable healthcare – you know, prenatal/OBGYN care, delivery and being able to afford healthcare for your CHILDREN – is one of the things that awould have a direct impact on women being able to choose NOT to have an abortion? Good grief, how many thousands upon thousands of uninsured women have ended their pregnancies because they know they can’t afford the medical costs associated with just being pregnant, nevermind giving birth?