Obamacare repeal, new concerns about women's health care

Washington is having another whirl with repealing and replacing Obamacare.

Lost in much news coverage of concessions to the Freedom Caucus and amassing the magic 216 House votes for passage is this: This legislation is as devastating to women's health care as the previous repeal version.

Protesters in favor of Obamacare gather outside the Supreme Court building in Washintgon. (Photo: Thomson Reuters)

The new House effort adopted Thursday in Washington mostly along party lines would eliminate the "essential health benefits" covered by the Affordable Care Act, including maternity and newborn care. The bill would pull funding for poor women to go to Planned Parenthood for birth control and lifesaving cancer screenings. It would restrict private insurance coverage of abortion.

"This latest attempt at a health care plan lacks an important component for women - health care," said Robin Chappelle Golston, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, which represents Planned Parenthood in New York. "They say there is no war on women, but this sure looks like one."

No kidding. Before Congress could agree to an omnibus spending bill this week to keep the government running, Democrats pushed to get rid of a GOP rider that, according to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, would have undermined a woman's right to reproductive health.

The continued government-sponsored enthusiasm for pregnancy has begun to look like a chapter out of "The Handmaid's Tale." The 1985 Margaret Atwood novel, recently made into a Hulu series, is set in an imaginary totalitarian future in which fertile women are required to bear children to repopulate the nation.

The bill now moves to the Senate, but Thursday's vote in Washington may light a fire under the New York State Legislature to pass measures that shore up basic health care for this state's families. It's worth emphasizing this truth: If women don't have control over their own reproductive biology, they will no longer be free.

"It's been a difficult time," Golston said of the Trump era. However, "it's a positive time in terms of people who've been activated who were not active before."

That includes Long Islanders, who have assembled at more than 65 events and demonstrations since the November election to fight for protecting reproductive rights and access to reproductive health care including contraception coverage. Planned Parenthood of Nassau County has nearly doubled its email list to 15,000. Suffolk County figures weren't immediately available.

In New York, some state lawmakers are trying to erect a bulwark against Washington action, but the efforts are in limbo. Two bills that passed the Assembly await action in the State Senate. One is the Reproductive Health Act, which would strengthen New York law to allow abortion after 24 weeks if the fetus is no longer living or the mother's health or life is at risk. That's consistent with Roe v. Wade, which New York law predates.

The odds of the Senate passing the Reproductive Health Act are dismal. But a second bill that would protect contraception coverage, the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, may have a shot. Golston said Senate Democrats and the Independent Democratic Conference support it, and that Republican Sen. Elaine Phillips of Flower Hill has been "helpful." Her office confirmed she would vote for the contraception act. Originally proposed by state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, the bill might be blocked by the State Senate majority coalition from coming to the floor for a vote.

The coalition should think carefully before crushing a bill that would be a backstop if the Trump administration delivers on its promise to repeal Obamacare and starve Planned Parenthood of federal funds.

First published in Newsday. Anne Michaud is the Interactive Opinion Editor for Newsday.