I watched the snow billow down all around through the windows, puffed up by the heavy winds as our bus charged north to Albany. As aregistered nurse at Planned Parenthood of New York City, I am more accustomed to a quick subway ride from Brooklyn to Soho as my commute to our Manhattan Health Center.
Every day, I provide patients with birth control, STI tests, wellness exams, and other important services. But on that day last month, I headed to our state’s capital to speak at the Fight Forward rally, along with Governor Andrew Cuomo and Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards, and to lobby our lawmakers on behalf of my patients and reproductive health care. We were joined by hundreds of passionate Planned Parenthood activists from the across to state to speak with our legislators about why it is critical to keep the Women’s Agenda in the our state budget. The Women’s Agenda, comprised of 13 provisions that would make a real difference in the lives of New Yorkers, includes improving access to contraception, decriminalizing abortion, preventing maternal mortality, and advancing comprehensive sex education.
Yet, despite our efforts, the final FY 2019 budget omitted the Women’s Agenda, threatening the rights of women, girls and other marginalized communities. Now, while the federal government continues attempts to dial back essential health care coverage and refuses to be a champion for the underprivileged and to support our public institutions, New Yorkers are left to wait and wonder when it comes to our health, well-being, and future. This was a missed opportunity to show real leadership—and it reflects poorly on our state’s progressive legacy.
I know that access to a full range of sexual and reproductive health care services helps people live healthy, empowered lives and plan their own futures. At Planned Parenthood of New York City, we proudly provide care to every person who walks through the doors of our five health centers across the city. Regardless of your gender identity, your income, your immigration status, or your sexuality, we believe that you deserve high-quality, compassionate care and accurate health information.
It is time to stop playing politics with people’s health. Abortion, contraception, maternal mortality prevention, and comprehensive sexuality education are critical parts of sexual and reproductive health care, and we must do all we can to protect access.
New York’s current state abortion law is not in line with Roe v. Wade, and it hasn’t been updated since it was passed nearly 50 years ago in 1970. It is so outdated that it has forced some women to leave the state in order to get this very simple procedure. New York State laws also criminalize abortion when abortion is a legally protected right. One in four women will have an abortion in their lifetime. Abortion is health care that makes a crucial difference in women’s lives, and our laws must reflect that.
Maternal mortality is also a critical issue in our state and one that disproportionately affects women of color. Black women are four times more likely than white women to die during pregnancy and childbirth. This is alarming and completely unacceptable. The Women’s Agenda would have helped save women’s lives and helped eliminate these crucial health disparities by proposing the establishment of a Maternal Mortality Review Board to identify causes and recommend prevention strategies.
The NYS budget also failed to prioritize access to affordable contraception to all who need it, when more than 50 percent of pregnancies in New York are unintended. The Women’s Agenda would have worked to break barriers to birth control access by requiring insurers to cover all forms of birth control without cost sharing, allowing patients to obtain up to a year of contraception at once, and would have improved New Yorkers’ access to emergency contraception in a timely manner.
Despite the budget’s failure to support sex education, we must also continue to fight to ensure New York’s schools support students’ learning about healthy relationships and sexual health by providing age-appropriate, medically accurate guidance from kindergarten through 12th grade. The Women’s Agenda included a requirement that our state establishes a “Be Aware, Be Informed” program and creates a model comprehensive sex education curriculum. Study after study demonstrates that comprehensive sex education prevents child sexual abuse, dating violence, and bullying, improves academic success, reduces unintended pregnancy and STI rates, and reduces health disparities among LGBTQ-identified youth.
As the Trump-Pence administration does everything in its power to roll back our rights and attacks the safety of our most vulnerable communities, it is up to the states to ensure that all people can access life-saving, critical health care. New York State elected officials should be standing up to protect the rights, safety, and bodily autonomy of all New Yorkers and fighting for our right to the sexual and reproductive health care we all need to live healthy, empowered lives.
Our fundamental needs, from contraception to abortion, are never negotiable. Heading into the remaining legislative session, Planned Parenthood advocates statewide will be pushing their elected representatives for real action for New Yorkers. We hope you stand with us.
Sunny Soroosh is the Registered Nurse Coordinator at Planned Parenthood of New York City-Margaret Sanger Center (www.ppnyc.org). She is the daughter of Iranian immigrants and currently resides in Williamsburg. You can follow her at @sorooshisonfire.