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By Defunding Planned Parenthood, Republicans Would Reduce Services That Make Abortion Unnecessary

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The healthcare bill proposed by Senate Republicans would reduce key benefits for millions of Americans and defund Planned Parenthood for a year, making breast cancer screenings and basic reproductive services more difficult for women to secure. We get response from Dr. Willie Parker, a physician, abortion provider and the board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health. “The Affordable Care Act expanded access to the preventive services of contraception and family planning,” Parker notes. “It strikes me as odd that the people who are ideologically driven to reduce abortion in this country are going to reduce the very services that make abortion unnecessary. So, hundreds of thousands of women got their birth control through Medicaid coverage because it was a preventive service, and as a result of that, we’ve seen the lowest number of abortions in this country since it became legal.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our roundtable discussion on the healthcare proposal released Thursday by Senate Republicans that would reduce key benefits for millions of Americans. And it’s expected tens of millions will lose their insurance if this legislation is passed. It’s called in the Senate the Better Care Reconciliation Act, which would fund a large capital gains tax cut for the rich by removing millions of low-income and disabled people from Medicaid. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, $33 billion of the tax cuts would benefit the 400 wealthiest U.S. households. The Senate bill would also reduce subsidies to individuals to purchase health insurance, and would allow states to eliminate protections for people with pre-existing conditions. The measure would also defund Planned Parenthood for a year, making, among other things, breast cancer screenings and basic reproductive services more difficult for women to secure.

For more, we’re joined in Aspen, Colorado, by Dr. Willie Parker, a physician, abortion provider, and board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health. His new book, Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice. Still with us in Boston is Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, professor at CUNY-Hunter College and primary care physician, lecturer at Harvard Medical School, co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, which advocates Medicare for all, which we’ll also talk about.

But, Dr. Willie Parker, respond to what has finally been revealed by the Republicans in the Senate, this healthcare bill, and specifically what it means for women.

DR. WILLIE PARKER: Well, this bill, to me, looks like a reverse Robin Hood bill, where it will steal from the poor to give to the rich. The president called for a bill with more heart. But what we end up from the Senate is a more heartless bill.

What it will mean, as your other guests have said, the most vulnerable people who rely on Medicaid—75 percent of poor children rely on Medicaid. Fifty percent of births that happen in this country are covered by Medicaid. And when you say the births, you’re also talking about the health of the women who give birth. And it’s just alarming that if women lose access to coverage for prenatal care and for childbirth, something that we’ve never even conceived of, that’s alarming in the context of the fact that we have rising maternal mortality in this country, a lot of which can be prevented by alterable things that can be discovered during prenatal care. So there is that impact.

There’s also the impact of the fact that the Affordable Care Act expanded access to the preventive services of contraception and family planning. It strikes me as odd that the people who are ideologically driven to reduce abortion in this country are going to reduce the very services that make abortion unnecessary. So, hundreds of thousands of women got their birth control through Medicaid coverage because it was a preventive service, and as a result of that, we’ve seen the lowest number of abortions in this country since it became legal.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you ever seen an organization—in this case, Planned Parenthood—targeted in this way, named in a bill, that this particular group will lose its funding? And why for a year?

DR. WILLIE PARKER: Well, this is unprecedented. I think it’s a bait and switch, “watch the birdie.” It’s kind of like deciding that we’re not going to overtly hit you in the nose, but, while people can’t see, I’m going to pinch you in the ribs while people aren’t looking. And so, I’ve never seen a targeted restriction of resources toward an organization simply because, ideologically, people are opposed to one of the services that they provide. But it is consistent with the extremism that we see on people who disagree with the idea of abortion.

And so, they are willing to discount all the other vital services that Planned Parenthood provides, like, as you said earlier, screening, mammography, pelvic exams, cervical cancer screening. And defunding Planned Parenthood for a year, or at all, means that 2.5 million women who rely on Planned Parenthood for those services will be uncovered for a year. And going into the future, that number would only swell.

AMY GOODMAN: It might surprise people to hear that, for example, that half the babies born in this country are on Medicaid, that those births are covered by Medicaid. Can you explain that, Dr. Parker?

DR. WILLIE PARKER: Well, it’s related to—when you look at the fact that higher rates of unintended pregnancy, which is about half of all pregnancies in this country that occur, they’re unintended. Those unintended pregnancy rates occur higher to people who lack reliable access to healthcare. So that means that those people would not have access to preventive services and would enter into pregnancy with a—with comorbidities or other health issues that might make their care necessary, when they don’t have coverage. And as your guests said earlier, the people who are sickest and who are neediest consume more of the healthcare services. And so, you know, when you look at the fact that we say that women, in an effort to make sure that they have healthy babies, are entitled to healthcare, it’s not a small stretch that poor women and underinsured women who become pregnant, irrespective of their insurance coverage status, need the care when they need it. And that’s where Medicaid steps into the gap.

AMY GOODMAN: What was your response when you started to read through this bill? And how are people organizing right now in the reproductive rights community around the country?

DR. WILLIE PARKER: Well, I was just disheartened and saddened and angry and energized at the same time. It seems like those who have little will have the most taken from them, and those who have the most will have their excess augmented. It is just shameful. And it’s perplexing that the most vulnerable in our society are being made more vulnerable and that there’s just a blatant disregard for our most vulnerable citizens that we claim to care so much about—namely, elderly, women and children.

I think people are understanding and deciding that they can’t take this lying down. I think the march on January 21st, the Women’s March, and other marches that have launched since have energized people to understand that they have to become politically engaged. And so, you have people who are moving forward based on the movement of people to get out and march, and now we’re trying to transition that into political activism on multiple levels.

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