As the days grow shorter and the weather gets colder, this time of year is typically a season of thanks and reflection. But, 2020 is anything but typical, and it goes without saying that reflecting on the past year can be challenging. That said, I am immensely thankful and have found that reflecting on the tumult of the last year gives me the inspiration and motivation to move forward with purpose and determination in advocating for those who receive compassionate care across Planned Parenthood’s 108 health centers in California—now more than ever.
It’s hard to list out all of the events of the last year that have directly impacted the communities Planned Parenthood serves – not to mention directly impacting the future of health care access and reproductive rights. But when California was faced with the COVID-19 public health crisis, Planned Parenthood joined other health care providers, hospitals, and community-based organizations to meet the moment. This included using technology and innovation, like telehealth and “no touch” prescription pick-ups, to meet patients where they are and provide them with the timely information and care they need and deserve. Unfortunately, we’ve seen how the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the country, and because of centuries of systemic inequities, its harm is felt most by Black, Latinx, and transgender and gender nonconforming people in this country. We know Latinx and Black people are three times more likely to become infected than their white neighbors, and three times more likely to die of COVID-19. And on the economic front, women of color make up the majority of low-wage earners and Black women are twice as likely as white men to report being laid off or furloughed.
As our nation, and state, confront the pandemic that is disproportionately impacting communities of color, we must also address the public health crisis that racism presents. In a year of reckoning with our nation’s history of systemic racism, largely prompted by acts of inhumane and violent policing of Black bodies, we cannot ignore the dark and disturbing history of sterilization both within the United States and California. We must recognize that reproductive injustice is part of a pattern of abuse perpetuated by the same system that is responsible for family separation at the border, coercion around abortion access for minors, police violence, and more. We must demand accountability; we must demand justice; and we must demand an end to the inequities that continue to define so many moments for California’s Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and AAPI communities.
The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a trailblazer and fierce fighter for gender equality, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, abortion rights and health care for all, was a deeply saddening moment in this nation’s history. And while we fought tooth and nail to ensure her seat—the people’s seat—wouldn’t be filled until after the inauguration, the U.S. Senate ultimately rushed through the sham, partisan confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett. Already, the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court has heard cases around the Affordable Care Act and LGBTQ+ rights, with decisions expected this year that could deeply impact health care access and gender equity across the nation, but especially in California.
But despite all of this, I remain hopeful for the future. And thankful for the Black voters and young voters of color who were critical to defending many reproductive rights champions — in addition to delivering an undeniable victory for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris at the top of the ticket. I’m optimistic President-elect Joe Biden and California’s very own Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will usher in a new era of change, an era that shows we cannot become complacent.
The work to undo the harm of federal attacks against our rights and freedoms is just beginning — from repealing state-based abortion restrictions to defending against harmful decisions that could come down from the U.S. Supreme Court to dismantling white supremacy and the centuries of harmful policies rooted in it…including within our very own health care system. Now is the time to prioritize access to health care, to overturn policies that are discriminatory, and to invest in the very safety-net providers that California’s communities rely on for high-quality, affordable care.
California’s Medicaid program, Medi-Cal, is a great example. Every year, the Medi-Cal program is at risk of being cut in the state’s budget because it’s a big pot of money. The problem is, funding Medi-Cal isn’t just about making sure that health centers can stay open or that safety-net providers get reimbursed appropriately (fact: Medi-Cal reimburses physicians bout $18 a visit). It’s about the disenfranchisement of millions of Californians who rely on the state’s program for affordable, high-quality care – at a time when we need to ensure people have, at least, basic access to essential health care services. And that means a vaccine for COVID-19 when the time comes.
This is the first “PPAC CEO Newsletter” and I hope that it gives readers an understanding of what we’re working on, where my priorities lay and how PPAC is working in our communities to keep our mission alive. I also want this to be a place where I can share honestly about the challenges that our communities face, so that we can begin to approach solutions differently than we have before. So whether it’s about the importance of really funding California’s Medicaid program, or the work we have to do to ensure equitable access to health care for California’s Black and Brown communities, or the fights we need to ensure reproductive freedom for all – I look forward to this space to connect and communicate.