By State Rep. Morgan Cephas, (D-Phila.)
Last Friday, I joined “In Our Own Voice” to discuss their recently released report: “The State of Black Women and Reproductive Justice.” This report highlights the state of the health and well-being of women and girls of color in Pennsylvania. With more than 100 people listening, Reps. Jake Wheatley, Ed Gainey and Women’s Health Caucus Co-Chair Dan Frankel, and I discussed our efforts in ensuring Pennsylvania women of color have access to quality reproductive health care.
Our conclusion: We have a lot of work ahead of us.
Last year alone, we witnessed an onslaught on women’s reproductive rights. From the White House to the state house, politicians – mostly older White men – have sought to strip countless women across the country of access to reproductive health care. If these proposals become law, it’s no surprise who will get hit the hardest: women of color.
Historically, women of color have been systematically denied the resources, services and information they need to make important personal decisions regarding their health. For example, before the Affordable Care Act, women of color were charged more for health insurance premiums since they are disproportionately more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions that often qualify as pre-existing conditions. These include hypertension, obesity, cancer, diabetes, and sexually transmitted diseases and infections.
However, it’s not just our health care that’s at risk, but the free will to use our bodies as our own. Just last year, Pennsylvania legislators passed the country’s most restrictive abortion bill. This bill would have reduced the time available for Pennsylvania women to get an abortion from 24 weeks to 20 – a clear violation of Roe v. Wade. Luckily, Governor Wolf vetoed it.
To make matters worse, legislators are making it harder to access birth control and eliminating funding for Title X family planning programs. These services are crucial to woman of color who mostly rely on publicly funded contraceptive services. It was reported that in 2015, two-thirds of Title X clients had incomes at or below the federal poverty line.
Moreover, Title X programs do much more than offer contraceptive care and help women avoid unintended pregnancies. They offer an array of services including pelvic exams; screenings for cervical and breast cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and sexually transmitted diseases; health education, infertility services, and referrals for health and social services to name a few. These attacks on our reproductive health seek to criminalize being of color and female.
As one of nine women of color in the Pennsylvania Legislature – out of 253 total members in our commonwealth’s 67 counties – resisting has not been easy. But it is necessary and must be done.
I look forward to pushing legislation this year that would not only protect, but expand the reproductive rights that are crucial to the well-being of women of color in our commonwealth.
State Rep. Morgan Cephas, (D-Phila.) represents the 192nd Legislative District and is the chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus’ Subcommittee on Women and Girls of Color. (www.pahouse.com/Cephas)