This International Women's Day, Stop Attacks on Women's Health

For more than 100 years, International Women's Day has provided an opportunity to advocate for equality for women. Since then, consistent progress has changed the lives of women worldwide, with the right to vote leading to women in public office, and with improved education leading to women in leadership roles. But we still have much to achieve for women's equality, both on a global scale and, of course, here in the United States.

This year, the theme of International Women's Day is "Make it Happen." From a women's health perspective, what does that mean?

On the global stage, too many women confront overwhelming shortages of care. Around the world, more than 280,000 women die every year due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth. This is a tragedy, as countless of these deaths would have been preventable through access to essential care, including intervention by a medical professional.

These maternal deaths have a profound impact -- on families, on communities, and on societies. Any progress that we make toward child health, advances in education, and the fight against poverty unequivocally suffers when women are lost. That's why ACOG's Statement of Policy on Global Women's Health and Rights addresses includes a wide array of rights; in addition to gynecologic priorities such as the right to safe childbearing and the ability to prevent pregnancy, we address the right to equal education and the right to a living wage.

What many people don't realize is that although America leads the world in many areas, we are lacking in others -- including how we care for women.

Let us discuss, this International Women's Day, how we can "Make It Happen" by stopping the attacks on women's access to care.

Through the Affordable Care Act, women gained full coverage of preventive care services, including well-woman visits, cancer screening, and family planning. The goal was to improve the health of each individual woman, and also to lower overall health care costs, strengthening the health care system.

Unfortunately, attacks on this law -- including the King v. Burwell lawsuit, currently under review in the U.S. Supreme Court -- threaten to cut short this improved access to coverage, leaving millions of American women without the ability to stay healthy and prevent both illness and unintended pregnancy.

No-copay coverage of birth control, in particular, has the potential to do even more than improve women's health -- it furthers progress toward gender equality. The ability to control fertility allows women to complete educations, pursue careers, and have families if and when they are ready. This leads to not just to a healthier society, but a stronger society.

And yet, some of the most effective methods of birth control, like intrauterine devices and implants, have been misrepresented and criticized.

Pregnancy prevention is one key part of reproductive access, along with abortion rights. But recently, attacks on these rights have increased, with lawmakers seeking restrictions on needed abortion care under the guise of patient safety. However, these restrictions only serve to make safe, legal abortion less safe -- and in many cases, to drive women to dangerous, illegal abortions out of desperation. This is unacceptable, no matter where a woman lives.

These attacks on health are all examples of interference in the patient-physician relationship. For obstetrician-gynecologists, this is an intimate relationship that is built on trust and that gives ob-gyns a role in addressing a woman's overall well-being. Ob-gyns screen for domestic violence, look for signs of depression, and more. But as state legislatures impose mandates on communication with patients -- for example, current laws prohibit physicians from discussing firearm safety while others force ob-gyns to provide inaccurate, biased and scientifically disproven information to patients prior to abortion -- that relationship is also under attack.

We do need to talk about how to make progress happen for women around the world. But at the same time, we find ourselves defending women in the U.S. from facing dangerous steps back. We must stop this trend.

International Women's Day is about more than health care, of course. But we believe that access to care is an essential part of women's health and an essential part of women's equality. Let us stand together to Make It Happen.

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