Exploring Human Potential

Health Coverage “Black Eye” Needs a #MeToo Wake-Up Call.

Posted on | February 10, 2018 | 2 Comments

Mike Magee

It came as no surprise to #MeToo’ers across the nation that Gen. John Kelly expressed “shock” about Rob Porter’s eye-blackening abuse of his first wife, of which he was informed months before; any more than they were taken aback that Mike Pence fell back on his now well-worn defense, “This is the first I’ve heard of it.”

Their complicity is obvious to them and each of us. In Porter’s second wife,  Jennie Willoughby’s haunting post describing her experience, she well describes her hostage status with these words, “Everyone loved him. People commented all the time how lucky I was. Strangers complimented him to me every time we went out. But in my home, the abuse was insidious. The threats were personal. The terror was real. And yet I stayed.

Arguably, wives Colbie Holderness and Jennie Willoughby thought they had done enough when they warned FBI agents who were completing an investigation for Porter’s security clearance. But we likely must thank the #MeToo movement for providing them enough courage to speak up when the system failed, knowing that now their stories will be believed.

But Willoughby’s “Why I Stayed” post points to a larger problem – an institutional problem – which remains for #MeToo and all of us to address. Porter like Pence and Kelly and others lied convincingly and selectively, leaving Willoughby on the institutional out’s. In her words, “Friends and clergy didn’t believe me. And so I stayed.” A portion of our most autocratic leaders in and out of the government have been nurtured by a culture whose institutions are more than comfortable with gender abuse on a grand larger scale.

Consider the American health care system. Over the past three decades, death during pregnancy in America has increased from 7 per 100,000 live births to 18 per 100,000 live births. In the 2015 global rankings, the U.S. ranked 9th in economic status, 16th in education, 61st in maternal health, 42nd in childhood wellbeing, and 89th in female political status.

Back in 1998, when Viagra was released, and without a great deal of effort secured insurance reimbursement far and wide, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology went to the mat on gender bias, noting that 1 in 3 pregnancies was unintended, and demonstrating that reimbursement for contraception was still largely absent across America. Within a month, 2.4 million federal employees received contraceptive coverage.

With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, women thought the issue of contraceptive coverage had been finally resolved. The law mandated that all insurers provide contraceptives as part of their plans. The provision enjoyed the support of 77% of women and 64% of men. But the Catholic Bishops Association sent a small group of elderly chaste women, the Little Sisters of the Poor, to the bar to argue that the two page escape clause, designed by the Obama administration to skirt the issue, and allow Catholic institutions to house such coverage with a independent third party, was too onerous, stating that the signing would be morally tantamount to condoning contraception.

In 2017, a tenured department chair at Mount St. Mary’s college in Maryland prepared to leave her teaching post after more than a decade. Part of what led to her decision was the action taken in 2014 by college president, Tom Powell, in the service of his most influential Board member, Archbishop William Lori. At the time, Powell informed college employees that the coverage of contraception, which existed in the current agnostic employee health plan, would happily disappear if the Little Sisters prevailed.

In words and tone as seemingly benign as if they came out of Mike Pence’s own mouth, Powell said, “The whole issue about providing health care to society…that’s great. Health care is a good thing. It’s a funny thing for us to be fighting about health care. Nobody wants to be people’s life police.” With appropriate legal remedies, he said, “Then we’re not actually buying it….and let them use their own judgement.”

As #MeToo has revealed, the assault on women in America is real and pervasive. Believe it! The personal demons of Rob Porter reached deeply into the sacred space of the Oval Office. But he was not alone but in the company of Donald Trump, Mike Pence, John Kelly….and by extension, Tom Powell, William Lori, and countless other well entrenched mostly male leaders determined to maintain an edifice of gender bias and abuse.

Jennie Willoughby’s final sentence in her post reads, “In the end, who is the real victim of his choices?” I would answer, “America and her institutions.”



2 Responses to “Health Coverage “Black Eye” Needs a #MeToo Wake-Up Call.”

  1. Susan Pellerin
    February 10th, 2018 @ 11:53 am

    Disheartening to realize that these types of issues are still primary concerns for women in 2018! Beyond the obvious ‘collective’ work we must all do to rid our society of the acceptance of such behavior we must search for the information on how ‘we’ are raising our sons and yes, our daughters. What’s happened to our society that this level of ‘disrespect’ and ‘violence’ is OK??? We must teach our children that respect matters, that they can be assertive and yet not need to be violent. Today this is of paramount important and the an ‘abuser’ and bigot is now in the WH –

  2. Mike Magee
    February 10th, 2018 @ 2:48 pm

    Thanks, Susan, for your thoughtful comment. As you suggest, our culture is reflected in policy, and our policies reflect a sick culture. As you and others ( have emphasized, rebuilding the culture is an early childhood challenge, and women presence in the 2018 electorate is critical. Thanks, Mike

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