What Health Reform Won't Heal: The Effect of Toxic Chemicals on Sex & Reproduction
Without needing to be a news or political junkie, you may have noticed right now that everyone in Washington is discussing health care reform and its affects on women's health, generally, and the right to choose, specifically. The Stupak-Pitts Amendment in the House bill would prohibit any health plan participating in the nationwide exchange from offering abortion coverage. This means virtually all insurance plans would be forced to drop abortion services even when purchased by private funds. These discussions are fraught with dismay, heartache and anger because it’s becoming clear that women’s reproductive health and rights are not guaranteed but rather a bargaining chip for those on Capitol Hill. And, disappointingly, the Obama Administration has been quite silent in taking a stand and fighting for access to abortion services for all women.
Women’s health organizations have been working very hard to signal our objection to the House Stupak-Pitts amendment, to defeat the Senate version (the Nelson Amendment) and to change the course of what may be when the Senate and House bills are reconciled, if indeed the two bills go to conference committee.
At the same time, this past month, two new studies have shown that exposure to chemicals found in our homes, workplaces, and consumer products including plastics, food, sunscreen, and water bottles, are linked to feminization of boys, male sexual problems, and erectile dysfunction. This adds to the body of evidence that has linked toxic chemicals to a host of women’s reproductive health problems including miscarriage, infertility, early puberty and cancer.
The evidence is clear that both women and men are adversely affected by these chemicals. Yes, it’s scary. Many of my friends, family, and coworkers are nervous, frustrated, and becoming overwhelmed. We can’t all be amateur chemists and nor should we be. Isn’t our government supposed to protect the public’s health and safety? Shouldn’t the chemicals in our consumer products be tested for safety? It turns out they’re not.
Although this comes as a surprise to some, others are not shocked. In the thirty-three years since laws were first passed to test potentially harmful chemicals, only two hundred of the 80,000 chemicals produced and used in the US have been tested. Current regulations are so ineffective that they did not allow the government to ban asbestos, a known carcinogen. Although we can do our best as individuals to stay informed and shop wisely, we need companies to disclose what’s in their products and for the government to test all chemicals for safety. We need reform for the health and safety of ourselves and for our children—and we need it now.
So I feel today, as I do many days, that I’m doing a balancing act. I want and need to fight for what may become a major setback for women’s health and rights for my generation. I want to expand access to health care and eliminate the double standard that treats a woman differently than a man when it comes to insurance coverage. In the same moment, I also want to address what we now know harms women and men’s reproductive health: toxic chemicals. The trick is to stay equally attuned to first ensuring that a woman can get pregnant if she wishes to do so, as well as ensure that, if a woman gets pregnant, she has access to all of the healthcare options that are the best for herself and her family.
The endgame of the Stupak-Pitts in health reform amendment is our unknown future--at least until decisions are made about whether or not a conference committee will be created or the current Senate bill is taken up directly by the House.
The reality of toxic substances in our everyday products—and the lack of government oversight of these toxic chemicals—is our known present reality. As an advocate for women’s reproductive health, my work is both urgent and ongoing.