Framing the issue: women’s rights

Thirty-nine years after the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision upheld abortion rights, women’s rights remain at the forefront of the American political scene. Recently they have come to dominate the social issues of the 2012 presidential campaign. Issues of the legality and morality of contraception have resurfaced due to opposition by conservative candidates during the Republican presidential primary race. Questions raised by President Obama’s new health care policies have shifted attention again. Additionally, women’s equal rights and equal pay issues garnered attention this year when state governments made arguments deemed in favor of the gender pay gap.  Labeled the “war on women” by some, the reemergence of opposition to abortion, contraception and equal rights on a national level is central to female and male students alike.

What the expert says

Susan Torrey, Director of the Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, NYU Langone Medical Center

Q: What do you think the most important current women’s rights issues are?

A: My bias of course is health care. What we’ve been seeing over the last few months is a slow, steady assault on the health care  of women with the target issue being the right to life and women’s choice on abortion. It’s really clear to me that this will really have a huge impact, and [it] goes far beyond the rights of a fetus to the actual health of women. [It] will directly correlate with outcomes for children, particularly poor children. This has been a steady march to this point over decades, but now we’ve reached a level that is shocking to me; that we can talk about legitimate rape or we can demonize a woman for speaking in front of Congress about her health care.

Q: Why do you think these issues are in the political spotlight?

A: I think women are still an incredibly disenfranchised and vulnerable population. When you look at the mean income for women who are working now, it’s significantly less than [the mean income for] men, at a time when women are working because the economy requires it. This isn’t the 1950s where you could argue that staying at home and raising your family was really more important. Now women have to [work]. It may have to do with the changing economy or with the change of our population generally, away from a predominantly white, half-male population to a very different, wonderful blend of the people that we are now, and that’s probably pretty threatening to people who have been in power for a long time.

Q: In terms of health care, what do you think the effect of defunding Planned Parenthood would be?

A: In practical terms, I think it would be monumental for poor women. As much as the public health system creates two levels of care, it really is a true safety net. When you take away the non-profits like Planned Parenthood, there’s very little left. I think it’s going to be really, very, very difficult. It’s very discouraging to me to see people not understand that when you defund Planned Parenthood, even though Planned Parenthood [performs many] abortions, they also supply care to women who don’t have access for their preventative health care. Breast cancer screenings, cervical cancer screenings, prenatal care, stuff that [state] governments don’t pick up the tab for.

If you look in our country, the influence that mothers have on their children, a low level of education and low-income setting for the mother is a key determinant for the kid. Not just if they get out of poverty or go to college, but do they go to the doctor? Do they get immunized? Even the most basic rights, assuming health care is a right, really are linked to mothers. It’s not just women. It’s really our children. Some of these issues, like access to abortion for women who have been raped, access to care through Planned Parenthood that is not abortion, those are real. You can touch what the effect may be.

Q: What do you think the effect would be for students and young people?

A: For sure, huge pockets of under-insured people are students. Maybe not if they go to NYU, but if they are going to state or community college they may not have access to health care through their school or through their parent’s insurance. Certainly once you get out into the working world the question is if there is going to be health insurance with your job.

Where NYU students stand

“Women’s rights issues will affect my voting decision in November because I believe that women are entitled to the same rights as men. Governor Romney does not seem to believe that women are equal citizens in this country. In fact, if he had it his way, I would bet he wished women didn’t have the right to vote.”
— Andrew Dahreddine, Tisch junior

“The fact that there is even a question that I shouldn’t have full control of my body and my decisions is absurd. You can talk to me about the economy and the military and health care all you want, but nothing is as important to me as my rights as a woman.”
— Chloe Jury-Fogel, Tisch junior

“As a man, I don’t consider women’s rights every day… On the surface, [we’re] pretty equal…[but] it’s not too difficult to see that women are not nearly as well off as men. As the son of a loving mother and brother to the most amazing sister, I’d say women’s rights are [important] to my vote.”
— Eamon Downey, Tisch alumnus

“While I don’t necessarily buy into the whole ‘war on women’ rhetoric, there is a significant difference in how the major party candidates view women’s reproductive rights. I cannot imagine voting for a candidate with a pro-life platform. Getting the government out of my uterus [is] a top concern.”
—  Elizabeth Preza, CAS junior

“Obama has always been a strong supporter of pro-choice initiatives and if Romney wins I see a lot of progress that has been achieved through Obamacare going away. People say one man doesn’t have the power to reverse what’s in place but I believe Romney can definitely begin the process.”
— Kanupriya Bhargava, SCPS junior

“It’s imperative that whichever candidate I choose respects and fully endorses the freedom of women to make their own decisions in regards to their health and bodies.”
— Linda Yu, Stern freshman

A version of this article appeared in the Friday, Oct. 26 print edition. Nicola Pring is features editor. Email her at [email protected]