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Why healthcare for all is a feminist issue

Health charges for migrants are hitting women hardest. Yesterday feminist activists changed the sign on the new Millicent Fawcett statue in Parliament square in protest.

Image: Protestors in parliament square yesterday. Credit: Feminist Fightback

Yesterday dressed as suffragettes, activists from Feminist Fightback changed the sign on the new Millicent Fawcett statue in Parliament Square from ‘Courage calls to Courage Everywhere’ to ‘Feminists demand healthcare for all,’ in protest against NHS charges for migrants.

“We took this action because universal healthcare, like universal suffrage, is a feminist issue”, explained Eleanor Smith, who took part in the action. “This year marks 100 years since some women got the vote, but women under thirty and 2 million working-class women who did not meet the property qualification had to wait another 10 years. Today, there are exclusions too. Some people are eligible for free abortion and pregnancy services, which feminists have fought for, while others must pay enormous charges for the care they need.”

Migrants who are not considered ‘settled’ in the UK are now charged for these essential, life-saving services at 150% of the cost. Abortion is charged up front, costing £1,300 in an NHS hospital. Birth, including pre and post-natal care, is charged after the event and costs up to £7,000.

Hospitals may pass debts on to a debt collector who will harass the patient. In fear of debt, deportation or because they are unable to pay, some people do not access the healthcare they need, with devastating consequences. 

Beatrice came to the UK in 2012 from West Africa as a student and was disowned by her family after becoming pregnant. Because she did not have a visa, Beatrice was billed around £6,000 the day after her baby was born, a sum that is totally unaffordable for her. In the months after the birth, she was harassed by calls from debt collectors.

“It’s just me alone with my child. And they’re telling me you have to pay, when my child was four months. I almost went mad. I almost went crazy”, Beatrice said. “When they were calling me and saying I have to pay, I have to do this, there was a point I felt like just dying.”

Beatrice had several common but potentially dangerous medical conditions during the pregnancy. However, she told campaign group Maternity Action that if she had known about the charges, she would have avoided going to hospital and tried to give birth at home.

Image: Feminist Fightback

Rosa Campbell, another Feminist Fightback member, said, “We changed the banner because we do not uncritically celebrate Millicent Fawcett. Fawcett, like other suffragettes, was complicit in racism and imperialism. Fawcett was outraged that Maori women in New Zealand got the vote before British women. Ensuring everyone has access to the care they need, irrespective of immigration status, is a critical issue for feminists. We believe we must move forward with a feminism that challenges oppression and fights genuinely for justice for all.”

Get involved:

Come to a Feminist Fightback meeting and be part of the campaign to end the charges. The meetings are open to all women, including intersex, trans and cis women, and to people of diverse gender identities in need of feminist solidarity.

Get involved with Docs Not Cops.

Use the Patients not Passports toolkit to find out how you can start a campaign where you are or how you can take action if you’re a healthcare worker.


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