Since the unveiling of the American Health Care Act, Republicans’ long-promised plan to replace Obamacare, the bill has faced opposition from Democrats, interest groups, doctors’ and nurses’ groups, and even a number of House and Senate Republicans. Criticism of AHCA has been particularly fierce since the Congressional Budget Office released a report of its analysis of the bill, which estimated that the bill would result in 24 million more uninsured people by 2026.
Opposition among Senate Republicans suggests that, even if the bill passes the House in the vote taking place today, it has little chance of becoming law in its current form. The party has been split between conservative Republicans who want to impose more limitations on Medicaid (by making it easier for states to deny Medicaid to low-income people) and more moderate Republicans from states that saw Medicaid expand under the Affordable Care Act. The modifications Paul Ryan unveiled this week reflect efforts to reconcile the two camps.
The controversy generated by AHCA has been informed in part by the fact that it would defund organizations that provide abortion (unless they perform abortions only in cases of rape or incest or for the health of the mother), which critics see as a pretense to defund Planned Parenthood. The GOP is all but obligated to stick by this provision, given its ideological opposition to abortion providers, despite the fact that federal funding is already restricted from covering abortions.
Much of the GOPs opposition to the bill has been driven by concerns about the role of the federal government in the health-insurance market, with senators like Ted Cruz arguing that the bill is not conservative enough, though Speaker Ryan has maintained that the bill hews to conservative values by promising to lower taxes and decrease the federal deficit.
Yet the provision that would end federal funding for Planned Parenthood and clinics like it seems strikingly at odds with those values. The contradiction between limited government and restrictions on abortion access was voiced this week by conservative firebrand, provocateur, and host of The Blaze, Tomi Lahren, who told the hosts of The View, “I’m for limited government, so stay out of my guns, and you can stay out of my body as well.”
Lahren faced immediate backlash for her comments, with BuzzFeed reporting that Lahren’s show has been suspended for a week as a result, illustrating just how contentious the issue is among conservatives. And not only does the provision extend the power of the federal government to a woman’s private health care decisions, the results of previous efforts to limit access to abortion suggest that it would also be costly to taxpayers in the long run.
When Texas state legislators went after Planned Parenthood in 2011 by ending funding to any clinic associated with an abortion provider even if the clinic itself did not perform abortions, more than 80 family planning clinics across the state were forced to shut down due to lack of funding, taking the contraceptive services they provided to Texas women along with them. And though the funding was restored in 2013, clinics have been slow or unable to reopen, and the legislature’s research indicated that the thousands of unplanned pregnancies resulting from the closures would cost taxpayers in Texas nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in federal and state Medicaid support.
Whether AHCA becomes law or not remains to be seen, but if it is passed with the Planned Parenthood provision intact, precedent suggests the cost to taxpayers across the country could be enormous. And while it would allow the GOP to score a political victory, it would be at the expense of its own principles, taxpayers, and, of course, women.
This column is informed by the belief that an honest and brave conversation about what it means to be a woman is vital to understanding what it means to be a human. Its scope is temporal but its ambition is to discern the essential. Above all, it seeks to connect Milk readers to each other and the world around them. Email Jennimaria with corrections, questions, comments, and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.