Yesterday, former lobbyist Ralph Reed, who now heads the new nationwide Christian right group “Faith and Freedom Coalition,” held a press conference to boast about his role in helping to defeat dozens of Democratic lawmakers in the midterm elections. Reed explained that he used a sophisticated voter-targeting method to identify and activate Christian voters, particularly on issues like abortion and heterosexual marriage, to defeat even pro-life Democrats like Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH). After the event, ThinkProgress spoke to Reed and asked him to reconcile how he could advocate repealing health reform as a pro-life activist given the fact that the healthcare crisis causes tens of thousands of Americans to die every year because of lack of adequate health insurance:
TP: On the issue of life, Harvard Medical School reported that on average 45,000 people die every year because of lack of health insurance. I know you don’t like the health reform bill passed last year. Do you think to protect life, Republicans in Congress have to propose have to propose a solution that covers everyone?
REED: Well that depends on how you define everyone, I don’t favor a federal individual mandate that says —
TP: Maybe another mechanism?
REED: Well we had already been working on other mechanisms for years. I mean, we’ve been during the Bush administration, Republicans in Congress significantly expanded community-based health clinics, where people can get free care.
TP: But there was still 50 million uninsured during the Bush years. [….]
REED: I’m the son of an M.D. so I grew up in a small town in north Georgia and I assure you that there were a lot of people who came to see my father […]
TP: So you think charity could be the public policy plan?
REED: I didn’t say that. […] Secondly, Republicans have worked for decades to expand Medicaid where we are able to. […] If Barack Obama had come forward with a plan that would have provided matching federal funds for state efforts to expand Medicaid for people who didn’t have health insurance, he would have been able to pass a bill with 200 to 250 votes. That isn’t what he did.
TP: I think [Republican Senator] Lamar Alexander said that’s like expanding single payer if you expand Medicaid. […] There’s a little cognitive dissonance there if you say you want to expand Medicaid but it’s a terrible idea to put people on a government plan.
REED: I didn’t say I wanted to expand Medicaid. If he had gone forward with a plan like that, he would have been able to pass it on a bipartisan basis.
TP: You would have supported that?
REED: I didn’t say that. […]
TP: My question was, 45,000 people die because of lack of health insurance. That’s a pro-life issue to cover people with health insurance. What do you think this new majority should do to cover this crisis? There is a healthcare crisis. […]
REED: I’m not sure that you’re statistic is accurate.
Reed tried to deflect the question about saving lives with healthcare by claiming that Republicans support an expansion of Medicaid, federal matching grants, and an expansion of community-based health clinics. In fact, President Obama’s health reform contained the largest expansion of Medicaid in generations by granting access to Medicaid at 133% of the federal poverty line with matching funds to states, where 95% of the money would be provided by the federal government. President Obama also oversaw a massive expansion of community health clinics, providing an additional $2 billion in community health clinic money from the stimulus and another $11 billion in the health reform law. Republicans fought both measures, even going as far to claim that the expansion of Medicaid would be a “medical ghetto.” Now, Republicans in Congress, empowered by Reed’s “pro-life” campaigning, are promising to repeal the funding for both the Medicaid expansion and the community health clinics by rescinding all of health reform.
Health reform provides 32 million Americans with health insurance, ensuring that tens of thousands of people do not needlessly die and suffer every year. Although taxpayer-funded abortion services are restricted in the new health reform law, Reed and his cohorts spread a disinformation campaign to confuse voters with the lie that health reform increased abortion services. If Reed were sincere with his “pro-life” convictions, he would know that health reform actually reduces the number of abortions in society. As T.R. Reid has noted, women contemplating an abortion are far less likely to seek one if they can afford health insurance for themselves, and feel confident they can provide quality medical care to their newborn children. That is why in Western democracies where abortion services are free and more accessible than in America, abortion rates are actually significantly lower than here in the United States. Health reform not only ends the peculiar American system where pregnancies can be classified as a “preexisting condition,” but also provides new funds for prenatal care and other services for pregnant women.