This past Tuesday, Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in as the newest Supreme Court Justice, filling the place left by the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her confirmation to the Supreme Court brings a lot of uncertainty for the future of women, especially Latinas and other minority women in terms of rights, access to education, equal pay, and affordable healthcare.
Upon her nomination in September, Barrett said that should she be confirmed, she would be “mindful” of who came before her. “The flag of the United States is still flying at half-staff in memory of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to mark the end of a great American life,” said Barrett. “Justice Ginsburg began her career at a time when women were not welcome in the legal profession. But she not only broke glass ceilings, she smashed them. For that, she has won the admiration of women across the country and, indeed, all over the world.”
Indeed, Ginsburg’s legacy will not be forgotten. Ginsburg paved the way for so many women, championing for equal rights, fair pay, and women’s right to healthcare and bodily agency. It is important now that we keep Barrett accountable and hold her to her word to be mindful of Ginsburg’s legacy and life’s work.
The primary issue at present that we should all be concerned about is the potential threat Barrett poses to equal and affordable healthcare for women, specifically minority women.
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The threat to healthcare access for minority women
With Judge Barrett’s confirmation, the Court is now poised to overturn the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA has been crucial to minimizing the gap in health disparities for women of color in recent years. Prior to the ACA, 23 million women were uninsured in 2011.
According to a report from National Partnership for Women and Families, for that year, women of color made up 37 percent of the U.S. female population, yet they were 56 percent of uninsured women.
Since the ACA, the uninsured rates among Black women, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women, and Latinas have declined significantly, and have declined for all women by nearly half. Barrett has repeatedly indicated that she would support lawsuits to overturn the ACA and has criticized both major Supreme Court rulings that upheld the ACA (NFIB v. Sebelius (2012) and King v. Burwell (2015)).
On the topic of healthcare access for minority women, we spoke to Sinsi Hernández-Cancio, vice president at the National Partnership for Women & Families and expert in minority women’s healthcare.
Sinsi is a national health and health care equity policy and advocacy thought leader with 25 years of experience advancing equal opportunity for women and families of color, and almost 20 years advocating for increased health care access and improved quality of care for underserved communities.
She has extensive experience in health and health equity policy and advocacy spans the state government, labor and non-profit arenas and has also worked for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as a senior health policy analyst and national campaign coordinator for their Healthcare Equality Project campaign to enact the Affordable Care Act.
As an expert, we asked Sinsi what really Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court could mean for minority women, their lives, their health. and for their families.
“We must understand the great danger posed by Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court for women of color’s health and well-being for our families and communities,” Sinsi said.
She continues, “Having repeatedly indicated that she would approve the dismissal of the Affordable Care Act, our concern is that a case, Texas v. California, will be argued just seven days after the November election. If Barrett delivers the vote that overturns the ACA, we stand to lose a lot,” said Sinsi. “To start, millions of women of color will lose their health insurance. Insurers can discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. There are 67 million women with pre-existing conditions.”
Sinsi also reminds us that we could also lose access to prenatal and maternal care since health insurance providers would no longer be required to offer it. Affordable, preventive services, from preventive checkups, vaccines, cancer tests, and mammograms, would all be on the chopping block if the ACA is struck down.
Losing the ACA will severely impact the lives of minority women and women living in underserved communities as health services will become increasingly inaccessible. Not only will they become unaffordable, but women are likely to also face discrimination based on racial baises, gender identity, reproductive history, and even their ability to speak English.
Previously, women were protected from discrimination in health care by non-discrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act, known as Section 1557. However, in June 2020, the present Administration finalized a rule that would eliminate these provisions.
This rule puts women in danger, especially those who exist at the intersection of multiple communities and promotes misogyny, racism, and ableism in healthcare. Currently there are many lawsuits in the lower courts challenging this rule, and if brought to the Supreme Court in its actual composition, it would likely to be confirmed.
Greater health disparities during the pandemic
In the post-COVID world we are living in today, it has become all the more apparent how important our health is and how crucial it is that we have access to healthcare. If the Affordable Care Act gets overturned, millions of Americans will be left vulnerable during the pandemic. And undoubtedly, people of color and underserved communities will be hit the hardest as they have already suffered disproportionately with more COVID-19 cases and deaths than non-Hispanic white populations.
“Today, more than ever, Latinas and women of color are living this dystopian reality with the Coronavirus pandemic. Those who ever doubted the importance of access to health care or our community’s vulnerability can no longer deny it. The pandemic has shown to great, painful, and tragic effect the devaluation of our lives,” said Sinsi Hernández-Cancio. “Although there are more than three times as many non-Hispanic white people in this country as Latinos, we suffered the highest number of COVID deaths among people under 65. The largest number, not a portion or percentage.”
To put that into context, for every white baby that has died, Latinos have lost two. For every white child or young person between the ages of 5 and 24 who has died from the virus, Latinos have lost three.
“These are the future not only of our race but of the nation,” said Sinsi. “Latinos between the ages of 35 and 44 have died at a rate three and a half times higher than whites. These are fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, sisters and brothers who are no longer here.”
The repeal of the ACA would be dire and health disparities would worsen for minority women. At a time when over 236,000 people have died in the U.S. due to COVID-19, and while thousands are experiencing severe symptoms, the loss of health care coverage during the COVID-19 public health crisis would be devastating.
The future of women and girls in our country
Like most of life during this past year, the future is uncertain, but Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court poses a potential but significant threat to limiting the rights of women and girls in the U.S., from personal autonomy to education and economic equity, healthcare access, and equal rights under the law.
“Barrett will assuredly join the majority of justices who oppose allowing women to make their own decisions on whether, when and how to parent. Her ascension is part of a concerted plan to marginalize women and communities of color,” said Sinsi. “It has strong roots in racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and transphobia. But the attacks on our access to health care are central to it all. As my granny used to say, ‘If you have no health, you have nothing.’”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg paved the path forward for women and girls in the U.S. to have equal rights under the law. Her legacy is based on a foundation that values the rights of women and their right to agency and autonomy in their lives. This includes equal pay, access to education, and access to healthcare without discrimination. Judge Barrett promised to be mindful of the legacy that came before her, and it is our duty now to hold her accountable to this and to upholding the rights of women in this country. The future may be uncertain, but the path forward is not.
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“Despite these genuine threats, I do believe that communities of color will resist these efforts,” said Sinsi. “We know that Latinos are the fastest-growing minority group, and we’re on track to become 30 percent of the total U.S. population. I think we’ll continue to organize and elevate our voices–and ultimately, I think public opinion will be on our side.”