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What’s at stake for minority women’s healthcare after Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation

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. 

Amy Coney Barrett taking oath. Lucy.Sanders.999, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

women's healthcare

Sinsi Hernández-Cancio, vice president at the National Partnership for Women & Families

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.”

minority Women health

Photo credit National Cancer Institute – Unsplash.com

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 

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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. 

minority women's healthcare, empowerment

Photo by Natalie Hua on Unsplash

“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.” 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Her living legacy

When asked when will there be enough women on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg famously replied, “When there are nine.” Many people were shocked by this response. But why? As Ginsburg herself said, “But there’s been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” As only the second appointed female Supreme Court Justice, Ginsburg spent her entire career challenging preconceived notions about women and fighting for our rights.

She has become an icon for women and young girls and her recent passing on September 18th has left our country in mourning. Many fear for the future of gender equality in the U.S. now that Ginsburg’s seat in the Supreme Court will likely be filled by another conservative judge appointed by President Trump. But her legacy toward gender equality will not be forgotten and as a nation we will continue her fight for the future she dreamed of, where one day there will be nine!

The life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Joan Bader was born to Nathan and Cecilia Bader March 15, 1933. She grew up in a low-income, working class neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Throughout her childhood, her mother was a major influence in her life, instilling in her the value of independence and a passion for education.

On her mother’s teachings, Ginsburg once said, “My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.”

Cecelia Bader never attended college herself. Instead she worked in a garment factory and her earnings went toward paying for her brother’s college education. This selfless act left a tremendous impression on Ruth, who spend the rest of her academic career working diligently at her studies.

In 1954, Ginsburg graduated top of her class from Cornell University and later that same year she married fellow law student, Martin D. Ginsburg.

Her academic achievements in the years that followed include attending Harvard Law School as one of eight women in a class of over 500, becoming the first female member of the prestigious Harvard Law Review, transferring to Columbia Law School, graduating top of her class once more, and all while balancing new motherhood and caring for her ill husband.

Despite her outstanding academic record, Ginsburg still faced gender discrimination during this time. At Harvard, she was chided by the law school’s dean for taking the place of qualified males, and later after graduating from Colombia Ginsburg faced difficulty securing employment. However, Ginsburg would eventually rise up to become one of the most influential women in the country.

Fighting for gender equality

Her fight against gender inequality was fought slowly, incrementally, over many decades. People are never ready for sweeping change, and so to change the minds of those around her–who were predominantly men–she needed to play the long game.

In a recent article for The New York Times, Linda Greenhouse writes, “As a lawyer appearing before the Supreme Court, she presented herself as a modest incrementalist. She had to. If she had come before the court as a social revolutionary, the justices — never having viewed the Constitution as having anything to say about women — would have recoiled. Instead, they swallowed the bite-size portions she served to them, and assumptions about the respective roles of men and women — primary wage earner, primary caretaker — that had been baked into the law for eons disappeared, one case at a time.”

This was Ginsburg’s style. She brought people around to her ideas, and fought long and hard to bring about the changes she believed in.

“Fight for the things that you care about,” she once said, “but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

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Throughout her career she worked to make changes for women and make our country a more fair and equal place. She has been honored with countless awards and recognition for her hard work. In 1999, she was awarded the Thurgood Marshall Award by the American Bar Association for her contributions to gender equality and civil rights and in 2002 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She received the American Bar Associations highest honor, the ABA medal, in 2010 and just last month she was selected as this year’s recipient of the National Constitution Center’s Liberty Medal “for her efforts to advance liberty and equality for all.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

U. S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, right, receives the LBJ Liberty & Justice for All Award from Lynda Johnson Robb, left, and Luci Baines Johnson at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 30, 2020. (LBJ Foundation Photo/Jay Godwin)

Ginsburg’s life was one of great accomplishment and we have become a better, more just nation because of her diligent work. Still, there is much more to be done. She has carved the path forward for us, now we must all follow in her footsteps to continue her legacy.

Continuing Ginsburg’s legacy

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The Courtroom doors draped in black following the death of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Spetember 18th, 2020.
Credit: Photograph by Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.

In recent years, Ruth Bader Ginsburg gained almost a celebrity following among younger generations. Fondly dubbed “Notorious R.G.B.” as a play on the name of late rapper “Notorious B.I.G.”, Ginsburg has become a beloved icon to women and young girls who look up to her as a role model.

On her legacy, Ginsburg said, “To make life a little better for people less fortunate than you, that’s what I think a meaningful life is. One lives not just for oneself but for one’s community.”

Now her legacy is in our hands to continue. As we move forward as a nation, we should remember her words. We, as a society, must work together to make life better for everyone in our communities. Equality is not just for the privileged few, but for all. In recent years, many U.S. citizens seem to have forgotten what freedom and equality really means, and what this country stands for. But Ruth Bader Ginsburg never let her vision for equality waver. She fought until the very end, so that equality could prosper in our nation.

We must now channel her fierce energy and passion into our work as we continue to build a fair and just future for the next generation.

Here I leave you with some parting words from Ginsburg that we should all take to heart.

“Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow….We are a nation made strong by people like you.”