Mississippi, a very anti-abortion driven state, decided to vote on “personhood” — whether life begins at fertilization — last November.
Though the measure failed, 58 percent to 42 percent, it could have set a dangerous nationwide precedent. The language of the initiative directly challenged Roe v. Wade which argued that a mother has a right to abortion until the fetus is viable to live outside its mother’s whom. A challenge facing today’s conservative Supreme Court could have proven disastrous for abortions-rights activists.
Many said the initiative failed because of its strict definition of fertilization. That definition put procedures such as in-vitro fertilization, the morning-after pill, or even regular birth control methods at risk.
Mississippi already has strict laws governing abortions including parental consent for minors. Their legislature has passed 10 laws since Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 court case which said states can regulate abortions so long as it doesn’t create an “undue burden” on those seeking it.
Americans United for Life, the nation’s largest anti-abortion group, ranked Washington the most “pro-abortion” in the nation. Washington’s Reproductive Privacy Act only has one caveat for those seeking an abortion — any doctor or medical facility can refuse to perform abortions if they personally object.
But just because the state doesn’t have many legal barriers to abortion, doesn’t mean there aren’t other difficulties when it comes to health access and women’s health issues within minority communities.
According to the Governor’s Council on Health Disparities, there are large variations in health coverage among Asian, Native Hawaiian and Paciﬁc Islander subgroups. Uninsurance rates are particularly high for Koreans at 31 percent; Native Hawaiian and Paciﬁc Islanders stand at 24 percent; and South Asians remain near 20 percent.
Language barriers have hampered all minority groups. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that one-third of Asian Americans do not speak English proficiently while many do not speak English at all. The state and city work to provide all materials in a variety of languages. For instance, King County’s public health department provides most outreach materials in Chinese, Cambodian/Khmer, Korean, Vietnamese, and Tagalog, but this still leaves out some populations, such as those speaking Japanese, Bengali, and Hindi.
Even if those with limited English capabilities have resources provided in their mother-tongue, many may not hear about the support systems in place for them.
“We do a lot of work to reach minority communities [with our public health programs], such as Asian American women, through our community partners,” said Matias Valenzuela, a public education coordinator with King County’s public health department.
Jodi Olson, a public health educator with King county, helps manage a breast, cervical, and colon health program in conjunction with King, Clallam, Kitsap and Jefferson counties.
“Our focus is to educate and reach out to women aged 40-60 who are at 25 percent or lower of the federal poverty level. Our priority populations include Asian Americans and Asian Pacific Islanders new to the country,” Olson said. “We have a contract specifically with International Community Health Services in the International District.”
ICHS uses community advocates to better reach communities that may have cultural or traditional barriers. These 10-12 advocates are community members who speak the language and understand the concerns of the population they are trying to serve.
“These advocates work with their respective groups to understand the fears they might have and educate them on how the clinic would handle those types of concerns. That helps to ease concerns or fears about the cancer screenings that are offered,” Olson said.
One outreach success story came from the program’s mobile screening stations.
“Especially in Filipino and Korean communities, we’ve made mobile cancer screenings available at churches and community halls,” Olson said. By screening on location at community events the program is better able to contact as well as educate the public about the resources available to them, and the importance of screening as a preventative measure.
These publicly funded programs are facing tough budget challenges in the economic recession. “We’ve already exhausted our funding for the year,” Olson said. “We haven’t been able to screen as many women as we have in the past. There’s been at least a 28 percent increase in the need for our program.”
ICHS has two locations, one in the International District and one at Holly Park. The clinic provides OB/GYN clinical services with male and female examinations, STI testing, birth control options, emergency contraception, infertility services, and pregnancy options counseling.