Discussions about women's health care in Michigan often revolve around one topic: abortion. But a package of bills supported by State Rep. Vicki Barnett (D-Farmington Hills) and other House Democrats aims to change that.
Barnett, Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-Huntington Woods) and Dian Slavens (D-Canton) spoke at the Farmington Community Library Main Library Monday afternoon about four bills and three resolutions:
- HR 140, naming May 12-18 "National Women's Health Week" in Michigan
- HR 138, urging the Dept. of Community Health (DCH) to promote programs that identify and address inequities in the prevention, treatment and research of diseases threatening women
- HR 139, recommending that the state intensify efforts to reduce the rate of teen pregnancies
- House Bill 4067, requiring all health facilities and agencies to offer emergency contraception to rape survivors
- HB 4722, which directs the DCH to develop and disseminate information about emergency contraception, including a description, explanation of use, safety efficacy and availability of emergency contraception
- HB 4721, requiring age-appropriate, medically accurate and objective sexuality education to be taught in public schools
- HB 4260, requiring doctors to give women information on breast density and encourage those who have dense breast tissue to consult with their doctors about other screening options
"Earlier this year, House Democrats went on a listening tour ... and one of the things we heard repeatedly is that Michigan is letting down its women when it comes to access to health care," Lipton said.
Democrats know they'll have to negotiate with their Republican colleagues to pass the bills, all of which have been introduced in previous sessions. In press conferences across the state, lawmakers encouraged women and men to let their representatives know that "women's health care does matter," Slavens said.
Lipton said Democrats are making the bills part of a "larger conversation" about women's health care. "Debates often evolve to a single issue," she said. "Access to women's health care is much broader." She said centering the conversation around abortion is "just diverting attention" from the larger discussion about women's health care.
"Women don't live in a vacuum," Barnett added. "What happens to the women in your lives and their health care really affects an entire family and the entire society as a whole."
In addition to speaking out on behalf of the package, Barnett said, women and men need to go to the polls and ensure that women are fairly represented. Currently, only 24 women serve in the House and four serve in the Senate, even though women comprise 52 percent of Michigan's population.
"The majority of people in the legislature are men, the majority of people doing (health) research are men, the majority of the people giving the money to do the research are men," Lipton said.
Barnett said it's also important to encourage young women to get involved in science and tech careers "to make sure the population is fairly represented."