Thursday, January 14, 2010

Women's Health Matters! Day of Action

Monday was the Women's Health Matters Day of Action in Albany, NY. After the "Stop Stupak" lobbying effort in DC in December, I knew I couldn't miss out on more lobbying, especially on a more local and tangible level. I'd never really been to Albany before, and was eager to channel my love for New York into support of family planning funding and other pro-choice initiatives.

On the bus ride up, we were all briefed on what we'd be lobbying for and I was sort of blown away by the scope of the situation. Here are the key points:

Family Planning Funding
  • Funding has been frozen at 1993 levels since 1995. One speaker put this in perspective by saying "Can you think of any service that doesn't cost more now than it did in 1995?"
  • For every $1 spent on family planning services in New York, $4 in Medicaid costs are saved - in the same budget year.
  • For every Medicaid dollar New york spends on family planning, the federal government reimburses the state 90 cents.
  • More in 6 in 10 patients receiving care at a women's health center (like Planned Parenthood) consider it their primary source of health care. In other words, this may be the only doctor many people see on a regular basis.
Reproductive Health Act
  • On the bus, I learned that the law in New York that legalized abortion needs to be updated. For one thing, it doesn’t allow for abortion if a woman’s health is in danger during her pregnancy, like Roe v. Wade does. This means that if Roe Vs Wade was overturned (worst case scenario), a women would not have the same reproductive health care services available to her in New York that she does now. .
  • This act ensures that a woman will be able to have an abortion if her health is endangered, regulates abortion care in public health law instead of the criminal code (where it has been since before 1970), and guarantees everyone the right to use or refuse contraception.
  • New York was one of the first states to permit safe and legal abortion, but now the laws need to be strengthened to protect a woman's health and her access to comprehensive reproductive health care.
I was amazed at how dire these issues seem, yet I didn't really know anything about either one beforehand. I guess that makes it more pressing and more important to educate about.

Once we got to Albany, we were ushered to The Well, where we got to see a handful of really amazing speakers and supporters. Tracey Brooks, President and CEO of Family Planning Advocates opened the program; Hon. Thomas DiNapoli, State Comptroller, was remarkably candid and honest in his support of these pro-choice initiatives, and a group of six distinguished state legislators showed their unwavering support before the Governor got to the podium. I've always loved David A. Paterson, and he is a really wonderful, amicable speaker. On the issues I am passionate about, Governor Paterson is without a doubt the best person for the job.

The keynote address was by Michelle Goldberg, author of NYTimes Bestseller The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power and the Future of the World. She put all her pro-choice views into a global, intersectional perspective and spoke about the lack of abortion laws in other countries. Without being patronizing or negative, she reminded us that the fight was nowhere near over, not in New York, and not anywhere. Her speech was so moving that my mom and I both ordered her book as soon as we got home (without realizing we were each doing it! So now we'll have two).

My mom and I only had one lobbying visit - state Senator Suzi Oppenheimer, from my district. Thankfully, she was already briefed on our positions, and turned out to be good friends with two of the women accompanying us. She was understanding and open, and our meeting turned out to be rather informal, which was nice. I had never met her before, and I was really pleased to see how much she already knew about family planning funding. She assured us that she would cosign the Reproductive Rights Act (adding that she might have done so already, and that she was pretty sure she had cosigned every reproductive rights bill ever. Very cool.)

One of the best parts of this day, for me, was spending the day with my mom (and her friend Denise! Hi!). She lobbied in Albany 30 years ago, and actually interned with Family Planning Advocates when she was at school at SUNY Albany. Being back in the thick of the action was really exciting for her, and made her want to be more involved again, like she used to be. And, not to toot my own horn, but I was the reason she came to Albany. She is really proud of me for being so active and vocal, but I wouldn't be so passionate if it wasn't for her involvement. A few people thought she had taken me on my first lobbying trip, but it was more like I persuaded her to join me. All in all, it was a cool way ensure that the pro-choice movement is still strong - that the younger generation is getting involved and lobbying just as hard our mothers did - and hey, maybe we're reminding our mothers how good it felt back then.


Benjy Stone said...

I too LOVE Paterson. That's all I got to say on the subject.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sammy-
That was wonderfully written.
Though I have been involved with Planned Parenthood all these years, it was wonderful to get re-energized and see how the legislative process works in government.
Your enthusiasm and great energy were a reminder of how important the cause is to me and I thank you for getting that trip together for all of us.
Look forward to seeing you again and pushing the cause forward.

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