A victory was won last week when the GOP pulled their flawed health care reform bill from the House floor after acknowledging they wouldn’t be able to drum up enough votes.
It was a victory particularly for women, who hours before the bill died, saw a room full of men (in that tone-deaf Freedom Caucus photo Mike Pence tweeted out) make decisions on cutting maternity care, hospitalization, and other essential health services.
Notice anything strange about this photo of a conversation that could have impacted the health care rights of millions of women?
“Friday was good day,” said Amy Cookson, the communications manager at Planned Parenthood Maine. “24 million people are keeping their healthcare coverage and 2.5 million patients still have access to Planned Parenthood.”
According to Cookson, if it wasn’t for the incredible grassroots organizing and activism of Planned Parenthood supporters, “the worst bill for women’s health” might have passed the House.
Volunteers met with Senators Angus King and Susan Collins and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, and delivered more than 1,200 letters to Congressman Bruce Poliquin’s office. This level of civic engagement was echoed across the country.
But that moment of light in a dark battle for women’s right to accessible health care was only temporary.
Last Monday President Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that they’ll be looking for “other opportunities” to defund Planned Parenthood, the organization that so many depend on for low-cost reproductive and sexual health services.
Staff at the Portland branch of Planned Parenthood are poised to keep their growing supporter base politically activated, as they anticipate more threats to their member's funding in the future.
“We know politicians will try again,” said Cookson.
Staff are worried that Congress might try to block Medicaid patients from accessing their services, which range from a multitude of sexual and reproductive health needs that every woman will need at some point in their lifetime. (They do far more than just abortions, which amounts to just three percent of the total services they offer and can’t be federally funded anyway because of the Hyde Agreement.)
And if Trump’s White House does succeed in blocking Medicaid patients from using Planned Parenthood’s services (like STD/STI screenings, contraception, pap smears, etc.), it’s not clear they’ll find care anywhere else because Republicans haven’t proposed a plan that guarantees that the surrounding facilities could absorb the demand for those services. Often times a Planned Parenthood clinic is the only one of its kind in a community for miles.
“There has already been a bill introduced to restrict family planning funding,” said Cookson. “Judge Gorsuch has an extremely troubling record on women’s rights and reproductive rights, and there are bad bills to fight right here in Maine, too.”
Although Democrats would unite against it, there’s an upcoming spending bill that could include a defunding provision.
Despite the moral outrage over the fact that Planned Parenthood offers abortions, not many people are actually putting stock into that argument. A recent poll found that 80 percent of Americans actually support government funding of Planned Parenthood, including 50 percent of Trump voters.
“It’s interesting when voters are informed about what we do and the care that we provide,” said Nicole Clegg, the Vice President of Public Policy at Planned Parenthood.
For Clegg, that Freedom Caucus photo that went viral symbolizes everything you need to know about the Republican’s disregard for the needs of women.
“I will say that 99 percent of women will use birth control at some point in their lifetime, so this is basic health care for women,” said Clegg. “To try and carve out the argument that somehow this is special or unique, speaks to how deeply disconnected these politicians are from the reality of women’s lives. They’re out of touch.”
“We feel like we’re pawns in a political game right now, and women are the ones that are going to pay the price,” said Jessica Dolce, a resident of North Yarmouth and volunteer at Planned Parenthood.
Dolce said that she’s relied on Planned Parenthood for over 25 years as a safety net service for when she didn’t have health insurance. As a teenager in the ’90s growing up in New Jersey, Dolce relied on the local Planned Parenthood for STD testings and learning about contraception. Later she would depend on them for annual check-ups and cancer screenings.
“I was given accurate information that kept me healthy,” said Dolce. “People don’t understand that birth control pills are medication. It’s a medication that’s prescribed to me for really debilitating menstrual cramps. The men in that room don’t understand why people use these medications.”
“It’s a tremendous relief to know that you’ll always have that care,” said Dolce. “You can’t put a price on it.”
Stories like Dolce’s can be found thousands of times over across the country, and are the reasons why there’s such a push to support Planned Parenthood.