The Senate Healthcare Bill Is The Latest Incarnation Of The Relentless War On Women

Photographed by Ashley Armitage.

It’s rare that a single piece of legislation would so uniformly devastate the well-being of this country. But, just like its House counterpart, that is what the Senate bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act promises: leaving millions of Americans uninsured and reversing the greatest advancement for women’s health in a generation.

This bill is just the latest incarnation of a prolonged and relentless war on women. From expanding the Global Gag Rule to appointing anti-abortion activists and peddlers of alternative facts to key positions in the Department of Health and Human Services, President Trump and this Congress have proven they are dedicated to implementing policies that threaten a woman’s health and ability to exercise her constitutional rights.

The bill takes targeted aim at women by not only promising a repeal of Obamacare, which greatly expanded women’s healthcare access, affordability, and quality of care, but it puts on the table proposals that will eliminate coverage when a woman needs to end her pregnancy safely and legally. While Congress already denies too many people access to abortion care by restricting coverage for most abortions in Medicaid and other federal programs, the Senate bill – like the House bill – goes to extreme lengths to further restrict funding and coverage for comprehensive reproductive healthcare.

The Senate’s proposal singles out abortion care, this time in the private market, by prohibiting tax credits from being used to help purchase insurance in the individual market if it covers abortion, thus disincentivizing private insurance companies from offering any plans that cover this care. It will also prevent small businesses from buying insurance plans for their employees that cover abortion care and limit states’ ability to provide comprehensive plans to residents – effectively banning private insurance from offering plans with abortion coverage. The result of these policies could drive more women into poverty; a recent study found that women who are denied abortion care are three times more likely to fall into poverty than women who are able to get the care they need.

Not only would the bill erase the gains made under the ACA and diminish a woman’s ability to access affordable healthcare, it could outright deny a woman’s ability to get the coverage she needs if she chooses to end a pregnancy.

And the damage doesn’t end there. Just like the version the House passed, the Senate bill also eliminates federal funding for Planned Parenthood, meaning that women who rely on Medicaid won’t be allowed to use their insurance at Planned Parenthood clinics. This will disproportionately harm low-income women and women of color, who rely on Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings, contraception, and other healthcare services. It is clear that other providers cannot pick up the slack, and many people will lose all access to reproductive healthcare and family planning.

Beyond setting up insidious barriers to abortion access and other basic reproductive healthcare services, the Senate bill would also weaken the ACA’s guarantee of maternity coverage by allowing states the option to deny women coverage for maternity care, which the CBO estimates “could increase [costs] by thousands of dollars” each year. In many states, women would go back to the days before the ACA and have to shell out more money to care for their health during pregnancy. Pregnant women who cannot afford that care may be forced to put their pregnancies at risk, forgoing important check-ups and procedures to save money and avoid falling deeper into debt.

Already, far too many women in this country worry whether they have enough money to get the healthcare they need, and for low-income women, immigrant women, and many women of color, that barrier to care can be even more severe. Yet, the Senate bill proposes catastrophic reductions for Medicaid programs – proposing even steeper cuts than the House version. This would leave millions of low-income women without access to any basic healthcare services like life-saving cancer screenings, maternal healthcare to ensure healthy pregnancies, family planning services, and much more.

Any one of the provisions in the Senate’s so-called healthcare bill is bad enough if taken individually to be flatly rejected. Together, they’re catastrophic. The proposed restrictions would plainly compromise a woman’s ability to access healthcare and to make decisions about her own reproductive healthcare, free from political interference, with low-income women, immigrants, and women of color being hit the hardest.

Our lawmakers should spend time crafting laws that are designed to advance healthcare quality for women and for all Americans, not scheme behind closed doors on ways to dismantle coverage. It’s clear this administration and too many in Congress prioritize a conservative political agenda over women’s health and well-being. That’s why, as the defenders of our constitutionally guaranteed reproductive rights and freedoms, we are putting Congress and the Administration on notice: We can’t allow Congress to pass a bill so plainly designed to impede women’s right to the full range of reproductive healthcare services.

Amy Friedrich-Karnik is the senior federal policy advisor at the Center for Reproductive Rights.