We can't separate abortion rights from other health issues

Umme Hoque, Progressive Perspectives on

Published in Political News

I’m at the pharmacy to pick up methotrexate — the medicine for my newly diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis (RA) — and I’m told they never got the prescription. It’s strange: I’m picking up another medicine, too, and the prescriptions were sent at the same time. The next day, it’s sent again, and I’m told there’s a delay: The pharmacist needs to review it.

RA is a lifelong inflammatory disease. It’s autoimmune; my body is attacking itself. It causes joint pain, and sometimes I can’t make a fist. Doctors say I caught it early, but if untreated, it could cause permanent damage and maybe spread to my organs. But I’m warned about other things, too — about how the meds could affect my ability to have children. I’ve done research, so I’m not confused. I’m just tired, not only because of the fatigue associated with RA, but because of how abortion is under assault at every turn.

Methotrexate is used to treat many things, like lupus and cancers. They can also treat ectopic pregnancies — which can be life-threatening without an abortion. Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, many people are having to argue with pharmacists to get needed medicine in case they’re actually using it for an abortion. There’s no clear guidance, so medical professionals respond cautiously or maybe politically; I’ll never know which it is living in the South, getting medical advice in New Mexico and Texas.

Polls say that reproductive rights won in the last few elections: Ballot measures on abortion rights drew a huge turnout during the 2022 midterms. While Democrats have committed to saving abortion (at least at the state level), the right to access safe abortion treatment isn’t the only health issue affecting people who can become pregnant.

After all, this winter of extreme weather put us in the middle of a “tripledemic” with rapidly spreading illnesses, growth in child care duties and parents missing work. One hundred million Americans — more than 40% of adults — are struggling with medical debt in collections, estimated at $88 billion (or potentially $140 billion), with more in loans and on credit cards. Medical credit cards issued by the likes of Wells Fargo and Synchrony are sold as a way to save families from ruin but charge crushing interest rates. Meanwhile, Big Pharma, banks and hospitals are seeing skyrocketing profits.

Lower income people who identify as women, especially if they’re Black, from a community of color or LGBTQ+, suffer the most, with the least access to safe abortion and the most medical debt. Low income women of color are overrepresented in jobs without sick leave while carrying the invisible labor of child or elder care. They’re most likely to live in environmental sacrifice zones with limited access to health care facilities. And low income and young people are more likely to postpone or avoid care because of the cost, while Black women also suffer the highest rates of chronic illness.

So, yes, 2023 is a key year for abortion rights. But as progressives, we need to unite our struggles, instead of keeping them separate. We’re in challenging times, but high voter turnout and alignment with populist issues should give us hope. Billions of medical and student debt was canceled last year; local bipartisan legislation, ballot measures and bills on health care and other related issues were passed; and the pandemic brought us a sense of connection and shared struggle.

We need to push President Joe Biden to take action, too. Recent limited progress on medical debt and Medicare show what’s possible, but Biden’s executive authority can go further.


Enforced hospital charity care could cancel billions in bills, especially if we also push to pass local policies that grow health care coverage.

If you’re struggling with medical debt, attend an upcoming debtors teach-in, hosted by the Debt Collective, on the issue. And demand all levels of government take action for us by getting involved in organizing for a health care system for all, especially those hurting the most.

This year is key to defending and bolstering a more inclusive version of democracy. If we want to shift politics, we need to come together across issues to fight for the world we want. We can’t let them divide us. It’ll just cause more pain.



Umme Hoque is an organizer, campaigner, and writer. She co-founded Take Action for Us and organizes with the Debt Collective and other movements. This column was produced by Progressive Perspectives, which is run by The Progressive magazine and distributed by Tribune News Service.


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