On Thursday the Senate passed legislation to repeal sections of the Affordable Care Act and defund Planned Parenthood by a 52-47 vote. The vote comes less than a week after a gunman attacked a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., killing three people and injuring nine others. The suspect, Robert Dear, said to be a drifter who spouted anti-abortion rhetoric, is being held without bond.
Like Dear who reportedly uttered “no more baby parts” to authorities, Congressional Republicans took aim at Planned Parenthood’s federal funding after this summer’s release of highly edited videos purporting to show the healthcare nonprofit profiting from the donation of fetal tissue after abortion procedures.
Through a series of hearings and votes, Republicans have attempted to withdraw the $500 million Planned Parenthood receives in Medicaid reimbursements and Title X funding. Several states have attempted to defund the organization even though courts have found this to be illegal. To date, no state has found Planned Parenthood guilty of any wrongdoing, however it doesn’t matter to politicians hell-bent on denying healthcare to millions of Americans.
There’s no denying that Planned Parenthood is an important staple in our communities. They provide everything from physical exams and flu shots, to STD treatments and abortion care. Each year, the organization serves almost 3 million patients, 80 percent of whom live at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. And in one-fifth of counties with a Planned Parenthood, they are the only safety-net family planning clinic. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office released a report finding that defunding Planned Parenthood would increase public spending by $130 million over 10 years and leave up to 650,000 primarily low-income and rural women without access to healthcare.
Healthcare access is crucial for Black women, particularly during pregnancy where we are four times as likely to die during childbirth than White women, are more likely to have high blood pressure, and more likely to die from breast cancer. Accessing contraception, prenatal care, and abortion could mean the difference between life and death.
But, this isn’t only about Planned Parenthood, fetal tissue, or abortion for that matter. Yesterday’s vote was but one in a larger effort by Republicans to methodically block healthcare to low-income and Black families.
When the Affordable Care Act was signed into law in 2010, funds were set aside for states to expand Medicaid eligibility to ensure those who couldn’t afford a plan on the healthcare exchange and federal subsidies would still receive health insurance. However, through unnecessary political turbulence, Republican governors in almost half of states have refused to expand Medicaid eligibility to their residents.
According to Pew Charitable Trusts, 55 percent of Black Americans live in a state refusing expansion. Coincidentally, most of these states are in the south, and have the highest rates of poverty. Simply being unable to afford a doctor’s visit leaves many Black families without adequate healthcare. The lack of expansion leaves individuals and families in a gap area without health insurance coverage because they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford health insurance on the federal and state exchanges. Four million Americans fall in this gap and over a quarter of them are Black. This means our community is systematically being denied affordable and basic healthcare check ups by our own government.
In many Republican controlled states, particularly in the South, eligibility requirements are so challenging that clearly low-income families can’t qualify. A Mississippian supporting two children on $384 per month would not be eligible for Medicaid according to the state’s rules. The dismantling of our nation’s health safety net is then combined with cuts to food stamps leaving families scrambling to make a nutritious meal on $1.42 per person.
Even if one wanted to “pull themselves up by their boot straps” to take care of their families, over half of Black workers earn less than $15 per hour, a living wage. It’s easy to understand why our health disparities are astronomically higher than the general population. We simply can’t afford it.
If the Republican controlled Congress truly wanted to pass legislation that would matter to Black lives, they could fight for $15, or ensure that every worker had paid time off when they were ill or needed to care for a sick child. They could even lobby their home states to expand Medicaid. They could pass real reform that would offer true economic justice to Black families. But no, they choose to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act and defund Planned Parenthood, in a showboating move that will be vetoed by President Obama as soon as he grabs a pen.
It is paramount that lawmakers protect the health of the people who live within their borders. Republicans cannot continue to employ election season political theater to pander to their base while people die from lack of insurance. Healthcare and the ability to live a healthy life free from violence is a human right. Whether it’s white supremacists shooting at us as we seek health care, walk down the street, and fight for justice, or politicians voting away our ability to obtain insurance, Republicans are taking an all out assault on Black families in every way possible. This is a public health crisis and our bodies can no longer take it.
Renee Bracey Sherman is a writer, reproductive justice activist, and a member of Echoing Ida, a project of Forward Together that amplifies the voices of Black women around critical social justice issues. Follow her on Twitter at @RBraceySherman.