Yesterday was Women’s Equality Day — and the 89th anniversary of women winning the right to vote with the passage of the 19th amendment.

I spent an hour yesterday on a call organized by the White House regarding health care and inequality of coverage and services for women. It’s an important issue, especially since women have the most to gain from better health care provision. 

It was important enough to the WH that Secretary Kathleen Sebelius from Health and Human Services, Melody Barnes who is chairperson of the WH Domestic Policy Council and Tina Tchen, Deputy Director of the White House’s Office of Public Engagement were all on the call.

The interesting thing?

It seems activist women are less than certain about a Democratic commitment to fighting for reproductive health rights.  Every question except one was about reproductive health issues and the current mishmash of bills.

At one point, I asked about "reproductive conscience" issues and whether the Administration would be pushing for express language in the health care bills preventing prescription refusals or refusals of medical care under standard practice guidelines.  Sec. Sebelius explained that the President had issued an EO rescinding the overly broad "conscience rule" from the Bush years back in February which she thought was sufficient.

They are also currently working on rules dealing with allowing for conscience objections while making certain that health care is not compromised.

Does that mean care and reproductive rights will again be compromised?  She didn’t say, but I’ll certainly be following up on that.

When I reiterated that, living in a rural state like WV, women could be severely limited in where they could get health care, and that poorer women, especially, might have difficulty with transportation to another clinic or pharmacy miles away from their home? Sec. Sebelius indicated that she understood that very well, and that was certainly being taken into consideration. But those issues were being tackled separately from the health care bill itself.

And then?

Tina Tchen from the White House Office of Public Engagement stepped in to say that it wasn’t "productive to talk about issues outside the health care process."

In other words, don’t muddy our waters by asking inconvenient questions?

Pardon me if I don’t take that suggestion to heart.

There were several questions directly about abortion and other reproductive services, and why there were limitations in the current spate of bills in both the House and Senate and what the White House planned to push for in the final bill.  The answer?  The White House is watching what Congress is doing, and that the benefit package in the public option would be "decided by a panel of experts."

As though the selection of the panel, the pro- or anti-choice views of said panel members and/or their commitment to science over other considerations wouldn’t have a direct impact on those policy choices?  And yet still no commitment on choice beyond a "we’ll see" attitude and a reference to the limitations of the Hyde Amendment

Again, from Tina Tchen:

"Decisions about what types of medical procedures covered will be made by medical experts, not politicians in political debate." She added, "There is longstanding federal policy around public funding for abortion, stating that there should not be public funding other than through exceptions laid out in the Hyde Amendment. Health care reform is not going to change public policy."

Not if no one bothers to make the case for a need for changes, it won’t. And, of course, if we all stop asking questions unless they are "productive," then no one will push for those changes either.

See how tidy that is?

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

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