The XX Factor

Is the Women’s Health Amendment Worthwhile?

Despite my dismay about the kerfuffle over delaying routine mammograms for women in their 40s, I was feeling OK about the women’s health amendment to the health care legislation that the Senate passed Thursday. Hey, it’s Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s idea, and the gals from Maine are for it. Plus, as Mikulski pointed out, the bill doesn’t require mammograms for women in their 40s, it just makes them available to women whose doctors recommend the screeenings. And women in this age group who are at particular risk for breast cancer should still have mammograms, it seems from the evidence. Plus the women’s health amendment provides for other kinds of preventive care, too, packaged for women. I mean, it’s called the women’s health amendment - who am I to argue with that?

But now I’m not so sure. Sen. Russ Feingold voted no because the amendment will add to the cost of the bill by about $1 billiion over 10 years. “We should make sure health plans cover women’s preventive care and screenings, but we should also find a way to pay for it, rather than adding that cost to the already mountainous public debt,” Feingold said. Well, yes.

Then there’s this piece from Barbara Ehrenreich that asks “Has feminism been replaced by the pink-ribbon breast cancer cult?” Ehrenreich closes with a call to arms:

What we really need is a new women’s health movement, one that’s sharp and skeptical enough to ask all the hard questions: What are the environmental (or possibly life-style) causes of the breast cancer epidemic? Why are existing treatments like chemotherapy so toxic and heavy-handed? And, if the old narrative of cancer’s progression from “early” to “late” stages no longer holds, what is the course of this disease (or diseases)? What we don’t need, no matter how pretty and pink, is a ladies’ auxiliary to the cancer-industrial complex.