WASHINGTON, D.C. — From a distance, the bright pink signs and smiling young women enjoying the early signs of spring outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday morning might have seemed like a celebration. But the occasion was far from it.
With Congress ready to introduce legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act — potentially defunding Planned Parenthood and blocking tax credits for abortion providers along with it — the largest women’s health organization is in full fight mode. After hitting Republican lawmakers in their home districts during last week’s recess, the battle now moves to the U.S. Capitol.
On Friday, a draft of the GOP’s proposed Obamacare replacement leaked to reporters. In addition to repealing Obama’s signature health care legislation, the bill would strip Planned Parenthood of hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid reimbursements and eliminate tax credits from insurance providers who cover abortion.
Republican lawmakers like to say that Planned Parenthood doesn’t need government funding because other Medicaid providers can step in to provide the same care for low-income women. But Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards told ThinkProgress the leaked bill would affect far more than just one organization.
“They’re trying to end access to reproductive health care in this country and they’re going to use every single way they can, which is why this fight isn’t about defunding Planned Parenthood,” she said. “It’s about ensuring that women in this country, many of whom come to us, can get access to the care that is their right.”
Under the provisions of the leaked bill, Congress would be imposing a one-year ban on federal funds for Planned Parenthood, presumably setting the stage for another bitter fight over the issue next year. Speaking to reporters, Richards said the time frame does not comfort her because “they do it once, they’ll do it forever.”
On its surface, the leaked draft looks like a worst-case-scenario for Planned Parenthood and would mean a huge financial setback to the organization. But Republicans may in fact be sabotaging their own bill.
Aside from the fact that some Republicans are now saying the proposal isn’t conservative enough, attaching the widely disliked Planned Parenthood defunding measure to the future of the country’s health insurance system could mean that the entire bill will crumble.
A majority of Americans oppose defunding Planned Parenthood and have made that position clear at town hall events across the country in recent weeks. In a statement released Friday, Planned Parenthood noted that even Republicans have warned that moving forward with a defunding of the organization is “ill-advised.”
The bill’s success will likely come down to two moderate, pro-choice Republicans: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). Without their votes, the GOP will be unable to move forward with any kind of legislation that would eliminate the ACA.
Senate Democrats say they are already increasing the pressure on Republicans to reject a proposal that would hurt women’s health. Speaking at the rally, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that politicians who attack reproductive choice are “so dumb politically.”
“We Senate Democrats will not let any legislation that cuts back on Planned Parenthood pass, period,” he said. “You hear that President Trump? You hear that Speaker Ryan? You hear that Majority Leader McConnell? Don’t try, because you will fail.”
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) also spoke out against any Republican health care proposal, but would not comment specifically on the GOP’s draft bill.
“I have been listening to Republicans say for years that they’re going to repeal health care,” she told ThinkProgress. “They now recognize that if they do that, they will own a very broken system that they broke.”
In the meantime, while the future of health insurance and women’s health coverage awaits an official proposal, women who rely on Planned Parenthood’s services are speaking out. Wearing the organization’s signature pink, women on Wednesday shared their stories of going to the organization’s clinics to get screened for cancer and other diseases, for pap smears, and for birth control and pregnancy tests.
Richards said that she hopes GOP lawmakers are listening, as stories like these have the potential to save women’s reproductive choice.
“Can you imagine if men in this country had to recount their medical procedures to keep from being prevented to go get them? The double standard for women in this country is outrageous,” she said. “I think it’s so important that we appreciate what women do, telling some of the most personal, intimate details of their medical history to save women across this country.”