Our policy is killing women — and we don’t care

Much of the talk about the ‘war on women’ has surrounded our country’s horrific approach to reproductive justice and the crackdown on reproductive rights across the United States. Every year, more and more bills targeting cis women are introduced — term limits for abortion, mandatory ultrasounds, stiffer requirements for facilities offering abortion services, funding cuts for programmes like Planned Parenthood, and more. Such bills are incredibly damaging, and also dangerous. Desperate women will put themselves at risk to terminate unwanted pregnancies, may struggle to survive dangerous pregnancies that didn’t meet the legal standard for ‘justifiable termination.’ Other women will die as a result of undiagnosed cancers and other health conditions that could have been caught at an early stage with routine gynecological care.

But the war on women is about much more than that. It’s not just reproductive health policy that’s killing women in the United States, or even health policy in general — not for nothing is health coverage between men and women still differential despite the much-vaunted advantages of Obamacare and the promises that it would change the world and result in universal health coverage for all. To be sure, women are dying within the health care system and as a result of terrible health policy.

However, a deep network of damaging policies are conspiring to kill women in the United States. We have 99 problems, and misogyny is all of them. Take, for example, the slow but steady deconstruction of government benefits in the name of cost-cutting measures and cracking down on ‘abuse’ of the welfare system and encouraging bootstrapping instead of facilitating laziness. Inevitably, this funding is targeting members of society with the lowest income — which disproportionately includes women, particularly disabled women and women of colour (and disabled women of colour). Yet, funding cuts don’t attract nearly the same headlines as reproductive rights issues do.

Perhaps it’s not as sexy to plow through pages and pages of welfare policy and hit state capitols to cover disabled people protesting funding cuts that will severely compromise their ability to live safely in their communities. That doesn’t mean that these issues don’t matter — and it doesn’t mean that they aren’t examples of policy changes that will directly lead to the deaths of thousands of women across the United States, that are already killing women. The architects of these policy shifts are well aware of this, and they’re also aware that the issues tend to fly below the horizon when they affect populations that don’t attract attention.

We often hear about how people need to support ‘all women,’ and reproductive rights is broadly seen as an example of this — most cis women are at risk of pregnancy, and limits on abortion access and gynecological care are of serious concern. But welfare cuts affect women too — and if you’re supporting ‘all women,’ these issues need to be addressed as well. The disabled woman forced into her institution matters as much as the woman dying of breast cancer because her local Planned Parenthood was defunded.

One becomes a headline and an illustration of the real, immediate, and awful consequences of government policies that cavalierly endanger women. The other slips quietly below the surface, sinking into the depths of an institution, where she may never be seen again — maybe she will be fortunate and she’ll find herself in a facility that focuses on providing residents with a high quality of life and aggressively, proactively addressing issues like abuse and neglect. But she might not, and, honestly, if she’s poor enough to be forced into an institution because she can’t afford to live in her community, it’s probable that she will find herself in a facility where her dignity, health, and safety will be compromised — and all in silence.

The hyperfocus on one set of policies is a gross injustice to, well, all women. It excludes the fact that there’s a huge swatch of policy that affects women as a collective, even if it doesn’t affect every single one. Cisgender women might not have any direct concerns about, for example, policies that discriminate against trans women — like the fact that many still don’t have employment protections, thus exposing them to the constant risk of being fired or experiencing retaliation if they protest mistreatment in the workplace — but those policies still matter. And they endanger the lives of trans women.

If we care about women, we need to care about all of them. That’s how this works. You can’t make big fancy speeches about how important it is to throw support behind ‘women’ as some vague agglomerated mass and then not actually address women and the varied, rich, diverse facets of womanhood. It’s possible to fight for policy change on multiple fronts, and we’re going to have to, because women — all women, period — are under threat in the United States, a country where they really are facing an active war that includes attacks on their reproductive rights as just one head of a hydra.

The more people focus on reproductive rights to the exclusion of other issues, the more those other heads grow. And they’re going to sneak around to bite people in the arse one of these days — including the middle of the road, mainstream feminists who so staunchly advocated ‘for all women’ and insisted that we needed to muster everything we had to ‘fight the war on women.’

Women are a pretty diverse lot, accounting for roughly half of humanity. Let’s not assume they all have the same needs and priorities, or face the same threats, eh?

Image: Woman series #2, Daniel Horacio Agostini, Flickr