Womanslaughter: Cuts in Breast Cancer Screening Hurt Women

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and also happens to be the month, in 1986, that I first underwent surgery for my own breast cancer. I do a lot of thinking as the days grow shorter and my sense-memories of being diagnosed, having surgery, radiation and chemo grow stronger.

I was younger than 50 when I was diagnosed. If I had not gotten a mammogram, I would have been dead before I reached 50.

Yet mammograms before age 50 have been a subject of recent controversy. In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force raised the recommended minimum age for mammograms by 10 years, from 40 to 50. Critics warned that this could mean that doctors would stop advising mammograms for women under 50, insurers would stop covering them and free health programs for low-income women would stop providing them. It also flew in the face of several facts:

FACT: A 29-year study found that mammograms for women 40-49 save lives.

FACT: Overall, a significant amount of scientific evidence exists to prove that annual mammography beginning at age 40 saves lives.

FACT: Because of high unemployment, many women are now without insurance and must rely on government programs for cancer screenings. At the same time, cash-strapped states are cutting those programs.

Fortunately, in 2011, the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act recommended mammograms for women starting at age 40. Even better, the Affordable Care Act deemed mammograms “preventive care,” meaning that insurance has to cover them at no cost to women.

This effectively nullified the 2009 recommendations. But we’re not out of the woods yet. There are those who want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, reopening the possibility that woman’s access to mammography would be curtailed. Pundit and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee suggests: “We must leave Congress no option but repeal ObamaCare* by swamping Washington, D.C. with millions of our voices.

[*ObamaCare is the name given to the Affordable Care Act by those who oppose it. I think it sounds pretty nice, myself.]

In spite of the facts, many in Congress agreed with Huckabee, and continue to propose bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

I called some experts to get their thoughts.

Former Chief of Staff of Cedars Sinai Hospital, and noted oncologist Dr. Barry Rosenbloom had this to say about early detection:

Delaying breast cancer screening concerns me. The earlier breast cancer is detected, the better the chance of a cure. Of course it’s worse for women in lower socioeconomic groups who have little or no health insurance.

I asked criminal defense attorney Art Goldberg if Congressional cuts to low-cost mammogram services could be considered a criminal act: manslaughter. Or more to the point: womanslaughter.

Here’s what Goldberg said:

In a country that doesn’t provide and encourage all women to get mammograms–because there is no health care system to provide them to the millions of women with no health insurance–Congress is committing a criminal act against women. Their refusal to provide funds for preventative kinds of health care aids and abets this crime of Manslaughter, or Reckless Disregard for Human Life.

So what can we do to hold Congress accountable? Vote! Vote for candidates who will fight to support all women’s access to health care–a basic human right.

“To look into the eyes of a woman you know has breast cancer and say ‘I’m sorry, there is nothing we can do’ is an unacceptable option,” says Nancy G. Brinker of the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Or, to quote a colleague, “Vote as if your life depends on it. Because it does.”

Photo from Flickr user pfala under Creative Commons 2.0.

This blog is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival. Read more HERvotes posts by Ms. and other women’s groups.


  1. Another reason that we need to support our President and those members of congress who pushed this historic and vital health care bill through and made it into law.

    If we do not vigorously defend against the attacks of the 1% Republican Elite brazenly orchestrated and manipulated by Ailes/Murdoch at Fox, then the blame lies with us.

    The whole concept of profiting off the suffering of other humans is abhorrent, yet it seems to be central to a corporate capitalist based healthcare system. Yet another reason to join fight against the corporations; we can not wait any longer.

    Thank you for the clarion call on this issue Susan, I agree indeed that we must hold these members of congress accountable for their crimes against humanity.

  2. As the many people , all over the country takes to the streets to Occupy Wall Street we must make sure that the impact of corporate greed and republican arrogance be understood in its clearest terms. This article helps to answer the question”what do they really want.” The answer is “Life”. I have lost, nd am at this moment losing sisters, friends, elders and children to a medical machine that counts coup with every dollar it collects. Womanslaughter is a real crime that should be called by its real name and real consequences responded to in the halls of academia,in the operating room, and in the streets of the world.

    Thank you for continuing to be a voice for sanity.

    luisah Teish

  3. This is unbelievable and unfortunately not surprising. One of my dearest friends got breast cancer in her thirties and is doing well today because she was able to detect it early. Making women wait or even suggesting that they wait until they’re 50 to get a mammogram is most definitely criminal.

  4. Thank you! this information is invaluable!! You are amazing. Thank you for pushing for women’s health rights.

  5. Belle of Acadie says:

    I dont understand why America makes you pay for healthcare it is such an abusive, elitist policy obviously the poor would be highly affected by this. Why can’t they have universal healthcare like Canada? Sounds so WRONG to me. I know if my family had to pay for medical care in we were Americans, we would be so, so poor. I am very grateful to live in Canada.

    • Why is healthcare the governments responsibility? Why not start a chapter to raise funds for mammograms in your area or at least help start one?

  6. Molly Kirschner says:

    Thank you for providing us with this invaluable information, and for presenting it in a way that is at once intimate and factual. This piece is clear and strong and resonant; it gives me hope for the future of the written word as a sociopolitical tool.

  7. As a woman who is the only member of her family on the maternal side who has not had cancer i have to believe that starting mammograms at 40 is critical public health action. In Cuba I watched a medical messenger come to the home of friends and announce to the family the date and time the mother would appear at the hospital for a mammogram. We could use such messengers these days, and with all the women who are unemployed in this country we could provide work. Actual important, meaningful, life saving work. Nothing can disrupt a family more seriously economically and emotionally than a cancer that is diagnosed to late to be survived. Hats Off! to Susan and may her blog be copied and sent out and about on twitter, facebook and the internet.

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