You may have heard: Planned Parenthood went to Congress last week.
The five-hour circus of a deposition brought predictable vitriol across the aisle, based largely on doctored videos concerning fetal tissue donation. It also showcased what would be comical confusion over everything from cancer screenings to how and why Planned Parenthood gets reimbursed in the first place--if Congress didn't oversee Medicaid.
It's not inherently dangerous to debate Planned Parenthood's right to exist and receive public funding, but it is dangerous to continue to debate women's right to healthcare as opposed to their actual access to it. Women's' jurisdiction over their bodies was decided 40 years ago, yet it still feels as if we are trying to lay the blueprints for an electric car while studying a 1970's Buick. Women's health spins on an axis of justification over innovation. And that's a big problem for women.
Well, just about any other industry with high adoption rates of its products, ideas or services experiences a tipping point. You can't really have something like an iPhone without that inflection point on the graph. It's the graphical equivalent of a match catching, and leads to mass adoption, lower costs and better access across populations.
And what could be more important than finding the tipping point of modern health solutions for half of our world's population? The population that gives birth to the other half of the population, no less?
But to get there, we can't debate the right of comprehensive women's health to exist in the first place.
Connecticut just announced a massive cut in payment rates to doctors who treat lower income women, reducing access to care. Meanwhile, contrary to how we're treating discussions of public spending, women are stretched beyond the physical and mental capacity of what we know to be humanly possible. Women are trending as the primary income-earners for their families. And even with some men offering to lead as a primary parent, most women's' status as breadwinners doesn't mean they're pulling less weight at home. They're not. On top of it, they're experiencing more guilt over compartmentalizing their responsibilities than their partners.
If you were temporarily distracted by all the blue links, here's the crux of it: women make less money than men while working as hard, head more households, lose out on advancements in their careers because of it, and are disproportionately affected when we make cuts in our health system--cuts that ultimately hurt our ability to curb this cycle.
So now is really not the time to be debating right. Women need better health solutions, and that's only going to come when we move this conversation in the direction of a tipping point, focusing on innovation that will in turn expand access.
Some companies (Netflix and the Gates Foundation, most recently) and even cities like D.C are creating holistic healthcare solutions with better paternity leave policies and flexible work accommodations for both parents. Still, these programs often benefit those who have a head start anyway: college-educated couples with elite, white-collar jobs.
Public education and policy are important in moving forward, but Planned Parenthood isn't the only path to increasing access, a point Cecile Richards herself noted in her deposition.
So where else could we see much-needed innovation?
One answer is ubiquitous, but powerful nonetheless. It's in harnessing the widespread adoption of apps as gatekeepers of personal health.
Take Maven, for example. They've built an app that lets women Facetime with doctors, nurses, nutritionists, therapists and other vetted healthcare practitioners. The prices are often less than that of a co-pay, and women can be prescribed medications (including contraceptives) without even leaving their own couch. And considering how many women have an iPhone but don't have insurance, or those who do have insurance, but are short on time and flexible work schedules, that's game-changing.
Another advancement--also via app? The smart menstrual cup developed by Loon, currently in a round of Kickstarter funding. The medical-grade silicone cup tracks your cycle each month, predicting when you'll get your period, and can also tell you when the cup is approaching full, saving unnecessary restroom trips. It even can measure fluid volume and color to predict infection or illness.
These sort of shifts don't just make women's lives easier, but they reduce superfluous healthcare spending. That's something we should all get behind.
When you innovate AND expand access at the same time, you make that much bigger of a dent in widespread popular adoption. If we can collectively resist the urge to spin our wheels in these discussions, the possibilities for where we might end up would significantly alter life not just for millions of women, but for their employers, their partners, their families and the economies they help move.