Loretta Ross says Stupak is a human rights violation

This afternoon, I participated in a conference call with Loretta Ross, National Coordinator of SisterSong Reproductive Health Collective on the notorious Stupak Amendment. I have known her for years and she has mentored me from fledgling feminist thought to where I am today. I hopped on the call while my head was still reeling from the auctioning of women’s rights on Saturday. But hearing the voice of Loretta, a woman who once regaled me with stories about her days tracking extremist hate groups in the South, made everything all right. She is that elder feminist that puts her hand on your shoulder and makes you feel like the impossible is in reach.

What I admire most about Loretta Ross is that preserving and restoring women’s human rights is central to her analysis. “Health care,” she said “is not an option, not a privilege — but a human right.” She described Stupak’s amendment as “a loss and injury to the human rights of women” and referred all members on the call to The Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted by the U.S. government in 1948. Articles 12, 16 and 18 discuss privacy, the right to find a family and the right to “manifest faith” as one sees fit — all tenets that Stupak ignored. This isn’t just a document that has shaped America’s Bill of Rights. In it lies the ethics that encompass what Obama has referred to as the character of our country. “This frame of human rights,” Loretta argues, “has potential for feminists to situate women at the center of the debate allowing us to call attention to our rights to our body and control over our money.”

But it wouldn’t have been a feminist call without a few words on the opposition’s framing. First, it was the Christian Right’s seemingly contradictory statements about the $1.1 trillion for health care as excessive while stressing the value of human life. Loretta summed up the ironic logic of abortion rights opponents, “You can’t put a price on a human life, but you can put a price on a human right?” Then she anguished over some lawmakers calling the bill “a benefit to all Americans.” She asked, “Aren’t women Americans, too?”

In the end, she had no negative sentiment towards Obama, who in recent days has voiced dissatisfaction with the Stupak Amendment. But she maintains that this has got to be an approach from the bottom-up. “Sending an e-mail,” she said, “may not establish a long-term relationship that will allow us to advance the agenda for women’s rights.” Of the hundreds of protesters affiliated with SisterSong who banded together on Saturday in DC to oppose the bill, “70 percent made advocacy visits,” she said. The callers agreed that a reenactment of 2004’s March for Women’s Lives may very well be on the table.

Join the Conversation

  • cattrack2

    “Health care,” she said “is not an option, not a privilege — but a human right.”
    I think that’s a poor way to understand the issue. Framing it as a ‘right’ means creating a permanent entitlement. Unlike a political right, an economic right comes with a price tag. What program are we willing to cut to fund it? How big will we allow deficits to grow to pay for it? How high are we willing to raise taxes in order to support it? The US economy is finite. I’m not sure we should be incorporating as a right something that accounts for ~20% of the economy and is growing at double digit inflation.
    It also has the unintended consequence of the Stupak Amendment. Absent a public option, there’s no avenue for the public to involve itself in what was heretofar a private decision.

  • MLEmac28

    Loretta Ross spoke at my school a couple of years ago, and afterwards I got to go out to dinner with her and a couple other students. That was probably my favorite thing that happened that school year.
    Framing plays a huge role in how people will perceive an idea. I think if we started framing our situation in Iraq as an occupation instead of a war (the war was over when we took Saddam out of power), people would be much less willing to continue. I think human rights is certainly a good way to frame healthcare. As for the cost, I think it won’t matter in the long run. We’re already paying for people who don’t have insurance. The bills for ER patients who don’t have insurance get distributed among the rest of us. Providing preventative care will make the total hospital bill go down. On top of that it can become a public health hazard if a contagious disease goes untreated.

  • JupiterAmmon

    Every right comes with a price. The right to an education, the right to free speech, the right to practice one’s own religion, the right to live without fear of terrorist attacks, so on an so forth, all of these rights implicate institutions that uphold them and ensure they are carried out. Such institutions cost millions or even billions of dollars- and we pay for them because they are worth it, even if they come with an extraordinary price tag. Sometimes we forgo paying them, and people suffer, such as when the a city refuses to pay for rape kits, or test them, or carry out the law after they are tests. The consequence is that women continue living in fear of being raped and schedule their entire lives around such fear.
    Rights cost money, and its time the wealthy in this country paid up.

  • cattrack2

    “Rights cost money, and its time the wealthy in this country paid up.”
    This is remarkable. Here you suggest something is a universal right, and hence universally valued, then in the same breath say that only the wealthy should pay for it.
    Think about the Bill of Rights, how many of them come with a price tag approaching 20% of GDP??? Or even close??? The economy is not made of silly putty. It does not expand simply because we wish it so. To pay for this the Dems are talking about taxing the health plans of union workers. In what world do union workers count as ‘wealthy’???

  • JupiterAmmon

    I was actually about to write that “its time we all paid up,” but I wanted to avoid the implication that, in the US, working and poor people have not been paying, when in fact, over the last 30 years and especially in the last 9, we have been robbed! The money that should have been going to education, both elementary and higher, our health, our roads, our safety, has gone to contracting companies in Iraq and a-holes on wall street. In NY, our reps have been asking us working and poor people “to make sacrifices like everybody else,” which is a complete distortion of fact since last time I checked our financial crises were created by sanctioners or the Iraq war and greedy men on wall street but is now being paid by cutting services that working and poor people need to exist. So I don’t know about you, but I am not following the “everyone needs to make sacrifices line” when it appears that its actually certain very very wealthy people who need to be making those sacrifices.

  • Suzann

    No, natural RIGHTS do NOT cost money. The definition of a natural right is that it is inherent in humanity. (Classic example – You have a right to speak but I have no obligation to listen.)
    Health care can not be a NATURAL right because the benefit to person A creates a burden on person B – thus restricting person B’s natural right to volition.
    (Person B – absent the demand imposed by community membership – has NO obligation to take care of YOUR health. If they did, then cost again wouldn’t be a question because they would be required to do so for free. The word for an uncompensated and involuntary labor demand by Person A on Person B is generally ‘slavery’.)
    CIVIL rights ( technically privileges restricted to the members of the ‘civitas’) may ‘cost’ – in that they place a claim on the resources of the community that grants that right.
    The nation may CHOSE to supply a general privilege in regard to health care. Or the nation may chose not to do so. That choice means that it is NOT a natural right.

  • JupiterAmmon

    well person A may have the “natural right” to speak freely, but without an institution overseeing that this right is upheld, person B may very well come along and smack person A over the head everytime A decides to exercise this right. Institutions cost money, that’s a financial burden for everyone, A-Z.