After a tense week of failed negotiations, House Republicans leaders withdrew legislation aimed at repealing and replacing Obamacare from consideration – and a vote – in the House on Friday after it became clear they did not have the number of votes needed to advance the legislation to the Senate. While the American Health Care Act (AHCA) was ultimately pulled from consideration due to heavy opposition from Democrats and both conservative and moderate members of the GOP, a number of women helped bring the AHCA down.
It's not entirely shocking that a significant number of women were opposed to the House GOP health care plan. After all, a report from the Congressional Budget Office concluded some 24 million people would lose their health insurance over the next 10 years under the AHCA. Meanwhile, cuts to Medicaid coverage were widely thought to disproportionately affect women and children. And the bill's provision to defund Planned Parenthood would likely have resulted in an increase of unplanned births as women lost access to affordable contraception. Whatever their reason, a number of women felt compelled to stand up and speak out against the AHCA, sharing their stories and experiences in an effort to urge Congress to vote "no."
While Democratic congresswomen like Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz were outspoken opponents of the AHCA early on, perhaps some of the most effective resistance came from Republican female legislatures like Rep. Susan Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski who stood in opposition to their own party. Collins came out early against the AHCA, citing concerns over how many people would lose their coverage and its disproportionate affect on the elderly. Although the AHCA never made it to the Senate for a vote, Murkowski also remained a vocal critic of the bill, citing its provisions to defund Planned Parenthood, cut the Medicaid expansion, and replace Obamacare's direct subsidies with tax credits. She called House Republicans move to rush the legislation through to a vote "a reckless repeal process" and labeled the bill "a flawed replacement" of the Affordable Care Act.
But while female legislatures have the voting power, they weren't the only women working to defeat the AHCA. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards and EMILYs List President Stephanie Schriock – both prominent advocates for women – rallied hard against the AHCA. The two were outspoken and tireless critics of the AHCA, detailing its negative impact on the future of women's healthcare and urging people to contact their Congressional representatives in speeches, in interviews, and on social media.
"Because people organized and spoke out, tomorrow 8,118 people will be able to get care at Planned Parenthood health centers across America," Richards tweeted shortly after the AHCA was withdrawn from consideration Friday. "For anyone who has ever wondered whether marching, speaking out at town halls, [and] making calls to Congress works—today is proof that it does."
Similarly, female OBGYNs of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) like Laura Boyer, Dr. Kristin Lyerly, and Emily Nicole met with members of Congress to urge them to vote "no" on the AHCA due to its reversals of coverage protections and benefits.
Yet House Republican leaders might not have had such a tough time drumming up support for their healthcare plan, had it not been for women all across the country who confronted their Congressional representatives about the healthcare bill. For example, Kati McFarland's impassioned exchange about the ACA's provision for pre-existing conditions with Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton in late February quickly went viral as it highlighted how a rushed repeal of Obamacare could have life or death repercussions for many Americans.
"Without the coverage for pre-existing conditions, I will die. That is not hyperbole. I will die," McFarland, who suffers from a series of genetic connective tissue disorders known as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, said before grilling Sen. Cotton on how he and other Congressional Republicans would ensure people like her were not left without insurance.
Laurie Merges, a mother who was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2015 is another example of a woman who took her personal story public in an effort to defeat the AHCA. According to Time, Merges is insured under Ohio's ACA-enabled Medicaid expansion program, which has helped her cover the cost of IV chemotherapy, radiation, a bilateral mastectomy, and treatment of her son's Asperger's syndrome. Along with discussing the importance of Medicaid expansion programs with aides from Ohio Sen. Rob Portman's office, Merges also traveled to Washington, D.C. as part of a delegation from the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network. Along with all of the thousands of other women who made phone calls, mailed letters, and sent emails, these women played an important part in bringing down the AHCA.
It has been an honor to share my story and to help others in this fight. I'll continue to use my voice to help those who aren't heard. https://t.co/6eX7q0mq6N— Laurie Merges 🏳️🌈 (@Merge216) March 24, 2017
While different political loyalties and ideologies mean they may not all agree on the need to repeal Obamacare in the first place, these women were all in agreement that House Republicans' plan to repeal and replace the ACA would leave women's healthcare in the lurch. Their combined efforts to lobby on behalf of women and women's healthcare was a contributing factor to the AHCA being withdrawn from consideration in the House.