The GOP Failed Women Again With Its New Health Care Bill

by Morgan Brinlee
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

With language that curbs access to abortion, birth control, and maternity coverage, Senate Republicans' new health care bill will seriously harm women's health care, should the legislation pass. Critics have said that one of the core issues with the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) is that it was written mostly by men.

When Senate Republicans first set out to craft their own health care legislation in early May, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he'd put together a group of 13 legislators to draft the Senate's health care bill. The problem? All of them were men. McConnell's all-male health care reform working group spurred criticism from both Democrats and voters outraged that men would once again be responsible for crafting legislation that stands to dramatically impact women's health.

"The GOP is crafting policy on an issue that directly impacts women without including a single woman in the process," Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris said in a tweet published shortly after the group was announced in early May. "It's wrong."

But McConnell pushed back against claims women were being excluded from the table where health care legislation was being hammered out. "Nobody's being excluded based upon gender," he told CNN, adding that all 52 Republican senators were "having extensive meetings every day" and were "the working group that counts." Although McConnell defended the all-male makeup of his health reform group, a woman was eventually invited to participate. Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito was invited to participate in at least one of the group's meetings, although it was not clear at the time if she would become a permanent member.

With women reportedly far from being fully represented in the closed-door meetings on the health care legislation, it's no wonder women's health appears to take such a hit in the Better Care Reconciliation Act.

According to a discussion draft of the bill, insurance plans that include abortion services could no longer be purchased with subsidies. To be clear, the bill does not prohibit or criminalize abortion. Rather, it removes any plan which provides coverage for abortion services — with exceptions made only in cases where abortion is "necessary to save the life of the mother" or in the case of "an act of rape or incest" — from the definition of a plan that qualifies for subsidized coverage.

The new bill also includes a provision to block Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid reimbursements for one year, a move that would likely have serious repercussions for low-income women who rely on the nonprofit health care organization for contraception, pap smears, cancer screenings, and STD tests and treatment.

In a tweet on Thursday, Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards called it "the worst bill for women’s health in a generation."

This isn't the first time Republicans have appeared to place the fate of women's health solely in the hands of men. As House Republicans scrambled to shore up support for the American Health Care Act earlier this year, a photograph of Vice President Mike Pence meeting with members of the House Republican Freedom Caucus to discuss key provisions such as rolling back coverage of "essential benefits" like maternity services drew criticism as there, once again, appeared to be no women present at the table.

With women's voices conspicuously absent from much of Senate Republicans' discussions, the health care bill's restrictions on basic health services for women indicate to critics that Republicans failed yet again to prove that they could do better for women.