By Ilyse Hogue
January 18, 2017 at 5:00 am ET
This week, the Senate will consider whether Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) should lead our nation’s top health care agency, the Department of Health and Human Services. That nomination is set against Price’s record in Congress, where he led efforts to take health care away from millions of Americans and has never once voted to give women access to family planning services and abortion care. Now, Price wants to bring that out-of-touch ideology to an agency that oversees more than a quarter of all federal spending. His nomination provides critical insight into the priorities guiding Donald Trump’s nascent administration. It also reinforces an emerging theme that Donald Trump’s presidency will be defined by leaders who are unfit for the task at hand and who often disdain the core mission of the government they were elected to lead.
In Price’s case, this disdain spells disaster for American women.
Let’s start with the health care landscape that Price would inherit. In most parts of the country, access to quality, affordable reproductive-health care has been shrinking due to hostile, Republican-controlled state legislatures. Medically unnecessary laws aimed at restricting access to reproductive health care have shuttered clinics across the country, and in many states — including Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana — these partisan actions have sparked a public health crisis.
A new report this week from my organization, NARAL Pro-Choice America, reveals that access to abortion and other basic reproductive health care services are more threatened than at possibly any time since Roe v. Wade solidified our constitutional right to choose abortion nearly 45 years ago.
The report — appropriately titled “Who Decides?” — finds that reproductive health care access is severely restricted in 26 states, more than half of the country. Here, Americans seeking to access their constitutional right to abortion face huge barriers, including medically unnecessary laws intended to shutter clinics providing abortion care, misinformation spread by anti-choice groups posing as reproductive health providers, and laws prohibiting doctors from giving their patients accurate information about how to access abortion.
Seemingly obsessed with restricting access to abortion, many states have also not made it easier for people to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place. With Trump and congressional Republicans threatening to take away Americans’ contraceptive coverage protections, there are 23 states that don’t require insurers to cover prescription contraception to the same extent as other common forms of medication. Only six states ensure that health insurance plans cover more than one month of contraception dispensed at once. The Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage is supported by 71 percent of Americans yet, if it is taken away, millions of people in states across the country face increased cost and decrease access to basic birth control.
In stark terms, the report makes clear that the fundamental right and ability of women to decide when, how, and with whom to have families is quickly disappearing across many parts of our country. This is the case despite the fact that a majority of Americans do not want politicians to roll back progress on reproductive freedom: 7 in 10 Americans want abortion to remain legal and accessible, with a similar number opposed to overturning Roe.
At the same time, many working mothers face hostile environments as they try to provide for their families. Even though more women than ever are the breadwinners for their families, few states have laws that protect pregnant workers from discrimination by their employers. And with the average cost of full-time child care often more than the cost of in-state college tuition, most states still don’t have laws requiring paid family leave. Across the country, women and their families continue to live a life of impossible paradoxes.
The nation’s health care law, known as Obamacare, has had a significant and positive impact on the lives of women and families just struggling to get by. Thanks to this landmark law, being a woman is no longer treated as a pre-existing condition. This means that women can access more affordable insurance for themselves and their families without paying more than men. Another outcome of the law: Unintended pregnancy is at an all-time low, due to more accessible contraception. Women have also collectively saved over $1.4 billion a year due to the contraceptive coverage policy.
Now enter Price. Throughout Price’s career, he has substituted his own political ideology in place of sound health care policy. During his 12 years in Congress, he co-sponsored legislation that aimed to make abortion illegal nationwide in almost all cases and ban some of the most common forms of contraception, stem cell research, and in vitro fertilization. He repeatedly voted to defund Planned Parenthood, which millions of Americans count on for affordable, accessible health care. And he voted to eliminate the Title X family-planning program, which provides millions of Americans with access to health care services ranging from birth control to breast cancer screenings. And, at every turn, he has continually reasserted support for the Hyde Amendment — a controversial funding ban on abortion that disproportionately affects low-income women and women of color.
Price is proud of his work to dismantle vital health care for women, and has steadfastly refused to account for the consequences for everyday American families. Price and other politicians who impose their own beliefs on others have contributed not only to declining health outcomes for women but to the daily struggle of providing for our families. If he is confirmed, his tenure at HHS will threaten the health and safety of millions of American women and the families they support.
NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue is a nationally-recognized social change practitioner and expert in online engagement with a passion for progressive work.
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