Since November, in Texas, young women under 18 must have parental consent to access free contraception offered by Title X. This federal grant program was created in 1970 to provide family planning and preventive health services. With this decision, the State, which has already been known for its conservative positions in matters of reproductive – then, also health at large – rights, further implements its restrictive laws in matters of family planning. And it does so just months after last year’s overturning of the US Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which made the termination of pregnancy a constitutional right for American women for nearly half a century.
It may seem quite a local event, mostly making eyebrows rise. Yet, in a way, it shows another hue of the peculiarity of the US healthcare system especially compared to similar countries where universal (free) care is granted. Undoubtedly though, coming from one of the world’s superpowers that have been working for decades to better the standards of equality for all, the news does not go undetected. Especially for how it heighten risks for teenagers from low-income households and minorities in an era of rising disparities, violence among young people and the return of racial conflicts. As the CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Alexis McGill, declared, commenting on the news from Texas: “This ruling threatens the health and lives of young people who may be stripped of their ability to access the health care they need to build healthy lives.”
Even if it seems a distant occurrence, safe reproductive practices and guidance do not only affect young people’s lives. In poorer areas in developed countries, teenagers from low-income and rural backgrounds rely on free health centres. And are also those at a higher risk of early pregnancies, maternal problems, and lower access to quality prenatal care and parenthood support. They are more exposed to abuses, systemic racism, and inadequate access to education opportunities – therefore, of finding better (if any) jobs.
Today the discourse on women’s and minorities’ equality and, then, health rights in a broader sense is widespread and has reached a high level of sophistication. The US stands out for the extremes of healthcare it offers; From among the best and most advantaged cures possible to the lack of granted basic primary care for those without some form of insurance. Yet, worldwide women still receive sub-par levels of care compared to men. The reasons vary widely. But it is clear that even policymakers are struggling to find appropriate answers to tackle the inequalities related to healthcare for girls and women.
From “hysteria” to “women’s health rights”
We had come a long way since the times when for most issues, women were diagnosed generically with “hysteria.” Even so, the most “feminine” aspect of a woman’s biology, i.e. the possibility of giving birth, is still something to be discussed at a legislative level. And consequently, how to access contraception, family planning, and safe abortions need to be heavily regulated. It is not just a matter of if or when to become a mother. It is linked also to women’s well-being, autonomy, child mortality, population growth and, as it is related to healthcare expenses, even broader social security and equality.
Recently Radar Healthcare, a British software company supporting health providers, surveyed 35 of the most developed countries. The aim of their reports is to define which healthcare system is the fairest regarding patient equality. And which is the most helpful for women in particular. In their focus on women’s health, they researched aspects like access to abortions, IVF treatment options, birth control access, medical tests and screening aimed exclusively at biological females.
The country that scores the best, offering the fairest access to healthcare, is the UK. Canada, France, Luxembourg and Norway follow. Italy is in 9th position overall, scoring well in screening but less than the others ten at the top, regarding contraception.
Among the countries surveyed, the UK, Canada, Norway, Netherlands, Sweden, France, Luxembourg, Ireland, Belgium, Finland, and Germany offer free contraception to female residents. Of them, only the UK and the Netherlands have no age restrictions for free birth control. Others have some limits in place. Canada, Belgium, and Finland allow free contraception to women until 25. Norway between 16 and 19. France and Ireland respectively between 18 and 25 years old and 17 and 25, and Germany from 14 to 25.
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