The Women in Health Leadership organization and the Maternal and Child Health Student Association hosted a panel discussion on Thursday regarding political changes in reproductive health policies and their implications for women. The event speakers included Medical School Profs. Timothy Johnson and Justine Wu, Law Prof. Edward Goldman and Monique Steele, a University Health Service nurse practitioner.

Two overarching questions directed the conversation Thursday night. The first asked the panelists to describe a time when a policy change directly influenced their practice. The second asked how students can get involved in the conversation surrounding women's reproductive health.

Wu, a family medicine professor at the University of Michigan Medical School, noted that access to reproductive health services is affected by race, gender, age, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation. During the event, Wu emotionally shared her brother’s struggle with his identity as a homosexual as a young boy. She emphasized each human has multiple identities that may create barriers to receiving health care.

“Until you address these issues, you are never going to be able to correct the disparities that we have in reproductive health outcomes,” Wu said.

Potential policy changes proposed by President Donald Trump’s administration in recent weeks have left women fearful of their futures in the health care system, as some are afraid of losing access to insurance covered birth control or full abortion rights. Steele shared the fact that some of her patients anxiously question the future cost of birth control and other health care services. These are questions the panelists said nobody has the answers to, as the continuation of former President Barack Obama’s health care law — the Affordable Care Act — is uncertain.

Public Health graduate student Ally Rooker plans to focus her career on women’s reproductive health. She found it helpful to come to an event that addressed relevant political issues related to her field of interest.

“(For) a lot of women, the political climate right now is making us uneasy, and this is a good way to connect with other people and get some expert thoughts on what is happening,” Rooker said.

Goldman discussed how college students can get involved.

Goldman said he often asks himself, “What is the role of a white male in the feminist movement?” He hopes to motivate his students to be passionate about women’s reproductive health rights. If one is against abortion, Goldman suggests supporting birth control.

“We have to get educated, we have to get involved … I think you have to get loud and learn how to advocate,” Goldman said. “This is not a time for quietness.”

Ryan Freeland, a graduate student in the School of Public Health and School of Information, connected with panelists’ honesty about reproductive justice and politics. He found the conversation to be productive because of the speakers’ straightforwardness.

“I appreciated the sense of realness that they brought to the conversation,” Freeland said. “I feel like, right now with everything that is going on administration-wise at the government level, it's kind of hush-hush, beating around the bush. Whereas here they brought it right front and center.”

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