How Women Stopped the ‘Skinny Repeal’ of Health Law

Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy
Contributing Writer
President Trump is flanked by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. Both women held fast in their rejection of the “skinny repeal” of the ACA. (Photo: Getty Images)

In the wee hours of Friday morning, the Senate rejected the “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), with not only the entire Democratic caucus, but three Republicans — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and John McCain of Arizona — voting it down.

And while McCain’s thumbs-down vote certainly came as the most dramatic surprise of the evening — and seems to be garnering the most attention on social media and in the press — it was the steadfast opposition of Collins and Murkowski to any repeal effort involving Planned Parenthood defunding that drove  the bill’s defeat.

“Women stopped this bill in its tracks,” noted Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement. “Since day one, women have led the opposition, from organizing rallies and marches to flooding congressional town halls and hosting weekly phone banks.”

That’s likely because two full pages of the eight-page GOP bill, released at about 11 p.m. on Thursday, were dedicated to barring Planned Parenthood from participating as a Medicaid provider, thus making it ineligible for federal funding in the form of reimbursements — a proposal that became known as its defunding. (There is no direct line item funding Planned Parenthood anywhere in the federal budget.)

Sens. Collins and Murkowski in 2010. (Photo: Getty Images)

Murkowski, in June, made clear that she was “committed” to supporting Planned Parenthood. That same month, Collins was just as emphatic in noting that it “makes absolutely no sense” to block Planned Parenthood from Medicaid through efforts folded into the Republican ACA repeal strategy.

In Murkowski’s state of Alaska, more than 7,300 people a year rely on the state’s four Planned Parenthood health centers for their care; its supporters there have held 76 events, made 3,658 phone calls, and delivered 3,169 petition signatures voicing their opposition to defunding over the past few months.

Defunding Planned Parenthood in Alaska — where 34 percent of the state’s residents live in rural areas, and 22 out of 29 of the state’s boroughs are without an obstetrician and/or gynecologist — would be devastating for Medicaid recipients in the state, according to an analysis released in early July by Health Management Associates. More than half of women of reproductive age in Alaska are Medicaid beneficiaries, and, concluded the report, if “Planned Parenthood health centers in Alaska can no longer take care of Alaskan women, other providers cannot fill the gap.”

In Maine, meanwhile, approximately 10,000 people a year rely on care at the state’s four Planned Parenthood health centers. In that state, Planned Parenthood supporters held 157 events, made 3,428 phone calls, and delivered 8,459 petitions to save access to their care at Planned Parenthood. Nearly one in three women in Maine of reproductive age relies on Medicaid for care, including birth control and cancer screenings.

“Let me be clear that this is not about abortion,” Collins noted in her statement on the vote, as posted to Twitter on Friday. “This is about interfering with the ability of a woman to choose the health care provider who is right for her. This harmful provision should have no place in legislation that purports to be about restoring patient choices and freedom.”

Sixty percent of all Planned Parenthood patients participate in publicly funded safety-net programs. Other notable figures:

  • In 2016, Planned Parenthood served 2.4 million Americans.
  • In 238 of the 415 U.S. counties with a Planned Parenthood health center in 2015, Planned Parenthood served at least half of the women obtaining publicly supported contraceptive services from a safety-net health center. One-quarter of all women in need of publicly funded contraceptive services live in these 238 counties.
  • Though Planned Parenthood clinics comprised just six percent of all publicly funded family planning clinics in 2015, they served 32 percent of all publicly funded contraceptive clients in the U.S. that year.

Bolstering the unwavering support of Planned Parenthood by Murkowski and Collins has been the outpouring of action from the organization’s supporters. Over the past several months, according to Planned Parenthood, its supporters have made over 200,000 phone calls to members of Congress; organized more than 2,200 events across the country, including rallies, petition drops, phone banks, and marches; and delivered more than a million petition signatures to members of Congress in opposition to its defunding.

As Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, tells Yahoo Beauty, “Women should be secure in the knowledge today that they are standing up for the right thing. Women’s health is an economic issue. Unfortunately, I think we’re going to be fighting this battle for a long time.”

But what’s also true, Murray continues, is that “we are standing here today with a victory because women stood up from day one after the election. They did the obvious things, like phone calls, and tweets, and going to rallies. But they also did the hard things. It’s not easy to stand up and tell the story about what happened to you when you needed Planned Parenthood or when your child was sick — but it was women who stood up and told those stories. It was women who were courageous and simply did what they needed to do.”

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