By Anita Kuennen

If the latest Montana legislative session taught us anything it is this: there are still many lawmakers in this state who would like to see women lose their constitutional right to privacy and equality. Indeed, many don’t comprehend that reproductive health care is not exclusively a woman’s issue, but affects the health of Montana children and families.

This legislative session was particularly disappointing in how the legislators decided to arrange their priorities.

Lawmakers spent precious time in their bi-annual session debating a constitutional amendment to define personhood at conception and establish rights for a fetus that would have created unlimited possibilities for conflict between a woman and her pregnancy. They also debated an amendment to provide protection to the unborn as a compelling state interest and similarly creating constitutional language that would jeopardize a pregnant woman’s ability to make private decisions related to her health.

Another bill this session would have offered a “bubble” of protection to protesters as they picket and harass patients outside of health clinics. And yet another would have targeted the regulation of clinics providing abortion care through the state department of health and human services -- an agency without any specific expertise in abortion care or direct oversight of other similar medical practices.

Fortunately none of these bills passed but they ate up an alarming amount of time that could have been better devoted to bills that would have actually helped Montana’s women.

Meanwhile, an important bill that would have allowed teachers to voluntarily seek instruction to teach sex education in a clear, medically accurate way, failed to pass. So as the legislative session closed last month the state has passed no bills requiring comprehensive sexual education, no bills supporting the prevention of teen pregnancy and none of the legislation that did pass improves access to primary health care.

Instead of wasting time and resources on the semantics of “life” we should address primary prevention and start with unbiased education, unfettered access to reproductive health care and systems that support children and their families. Forcing radically conservative agendas into our legislature only distracts lawmakers and resources from making necessary changes in health care access for women.

Statewide, groups like ours, instead of working to help women who find themselves pregnant and don’t want to be, had to spend our time reminding our fellow Montanans of a woman’s right to privacy so clearly defined in our state constitution.

Instead of trying to fight unsuccessful, useless legislative battles that help no one why not address the prevention of disease and unintended pregnancy? Why not move toward making the abortion agenda obsolete by addressing its root causes: poverty, lack of education, resources and limited access to healthcare.

When we discuss these root causes we are talking about a fundamental aspect of women’s health. Women of reproductive age make up 62 million of the current U.S. population. Women between the ages of 15 to 44 are approximately 40.9 percent of the population. Any public health care plan and reform should include prenatal, contraception and medical care as part of the continuum of care for women. Evidence shows that reproductive health is essential to women’s health. We need to address pregnancy prevention, particularly in teens given the 2007 incidence rates showing yet another increase in teen pregnancy, and approach women’s healthcare in a holistic way if we are to even begin to scratch the surface of prevention.

The divisive legislation flatly ignored the bigger picture of women’s health in our state and the fact that reproductive care is essential to women’s health.

Creating more barriers for women is not a solution to improving their health and that of their families. We should be talking about how we can increase support for women of reproductive age.
Kuennen is executive director of Blue Mountain Clinic of Missoula.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 5/09


Jack said...

We need to deal with maternity avoidance, particularly in teenagers given the 2007 occurrence rates displaying yet another increase in teenager maternity, and strategy female's medical care in a natural way if we are to even begin to provide simple facts of avoidance.
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