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Linda Tarr-Whelan's picture

Health care for women is in the news these days. But what does it all mean?  Having just researched for my new book what different decisions emerge when 30% women are at the table, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Congress were made up of 30% women, instead of 17%.  But more on that in future posts!

For today, I’m riveted by news stories that a “very prestigious independent medical panel” has recommended big changes in our health care routines.  As a colon cancer survivor and former nurse, it leaves me with more questions than answers. They talked about preventing deaths from breast cancer, but then told us to cut out several key steps we have learned to take.

We have walked, done relays, worn pink ribbons and educated ourselves to take practical steps:  do breast self-exams, have the mammograms we need after the age of 40 and regular doctors’ visits. Could these common-sense precautions really be unnecessary?  Really?.

First I went to the American Cancer Society, to see what they say at  The chief medical officer is very clear.  Even looking at the same studies as the independent group did, they came up with different conclusions. Their guidelines – the ones we know well and try to follow – stay in place.

Yes, there are risks that need careful discussions between a woman and her physician.  Yes, we’d like better science so there won’t be false positives on mammography that can cause anxiety.  But the bottom-line is clear:  we still need to check ourselves and get the tests we need for early discovery and treatment.

Then what about that flap over the House-passed health care reform package that traded a necessary part of health care away for a cynical political deal around abortion politics?  Most women don’t even want to think about ending pregnancies; we concentrate on having a safe pregnancy and a healthy baby.  Private insurance policies have generally treated women’s reproductive health as part of health care, not a separate political football.  That’s important because none of us can know what the future will bring.

Forty special interest members of Congress weren’t thinking about women’s needs.  They pushed for and won a provision to effectively prevent women from getting private insurance coverage for the full range of reproductive health options. These Members of Congress knew tax dollars cannot be used for abortion services; for 30 years, by law, no federal money can pay for the procedure.  Instead, like recalcitrant children, they held up agreement on the reforms millions of Americans including my family and maybe yours need for health care.

Think about it.  Every family knows someone who’s at risk with our fragmented health system. Our daughter’s employer – like many across the country – dropped health insurance coverage in this economic downturn.  Individual policies cost far too much for Montessori teachers like her.  Our son in the computer field was 36 years old before he had a job where the employer offered group health insurance. My aunt is only able to take the medications covered by her Medicare prescription drug plan.  Every family knows what is at stake.

Health care tops the list for moms to take care of their families.  Join the Moms Rising campaign.  Click here, because our kids need both health care and healthy moms!

Linda Tarr-Whelan is the author of Women Lead the Way: Your Guide to Stepping Up to Leadership and Changing the World.  Check out her website at

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