With Donald Trump as the 45th U.S. President, the Affordable Care Act will face challenges like never before. Demonstrations are planned for Denver and cities in every state Saturday. They’re billed as women’s marches to stand up for the issues of marginalized citizens.
In a meeting room at Planned Parenthood’s central Denver health center, volunteers are preparing for the march. Casey Rizzo says she’d never volunteered for Planned Parenthood before. Then, Donald Trump — who the 29-year-old didn’t vote for — was elected president.
“It’s almost like, ‘well what do I do now, what action can I take, where can we go from here?’”
Back when she was in high school, Rizzo went to Planned Parenthood for help with something she didn’t feel comfortable discussing with her parents: birth control. She believes that she “probably wouldn’t be the same person” or be where she is in her life if it wasn’t for the help she got.
Women’s health is the central theme of the marches. A central promise of Donald Trump’s campaign, Republicans have vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They also want to defund Planned Parenthood. Sarah Taylor-Nanista, vice-president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, says Trump’s election sparked a wave of support in Colorado. That includes a flood of donations and 600 new volunteers, double what the group had before.
“They’re recognizing that this is a critical moment in history and that severe damage could happen to women’s health care,” she says.
Federal law prohibits Planned Parenthood from using taxpayer money for abortions. Taylor-Nanista says a small fraction of the clinic’s patients receive abortions. The group instead uses federal funds for a variety of other health services. Things like breast exams, cancer tests, pregnancy tests and treatment for sexually-transmitted infections. Much of the group’s federal funding comes from Medicaid, which expanded under Obamacare. Taylor-Nanista says if Congressional Republicans make good on their “defund” promise, it is access to those non-abortion related services that would be hit hard.
“Yes, this is a backlash,” Taylor-Nanista says. “We’re not going to watch women’s access get taken away without a fight.”
Obamacare has a number of provisions specifically aimed women’s health. Natalie O’Donnell Wood, a health policy analyst with the progressive nonprofit Bell Policy Center, says there’s a lot at stake because the “Affordable Care Act really helped provide crucial preventive care for women.”
Abortion opponents and some conservatives see the Affordable Care Act and federal funds that go to Planned Parenthood as a waste of taxpayer money. Linda Gorman, the director of healthcare policy for the free-market Independence Institute, says the ACA squeezed people off plans on the private market and into less effective government programs.
“Now what people are forced into is Medicaid, which looks terrific on paper, but in practice is one of the worst functioning coverage systems in the country,” Gorman says.
She’s skeptical that defunding Planned Parenthood would hamper access for women to health services because that care “is available from lots of other outlets.” Planned Parenthood disputes that.
Meantime, other women’s health groups say they’re seeing a lot of fresh support since the election. Amber Garcia, with the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights says the expansion of Medicaid made a big difference in helping Latinos and other groups get access to both reproductive and preventative care. She thinks the Women’s March can send a message even as Democrats have lost power in many states and in Washington D.C.
“We’re scared but it’s nothing new, we’ve been making these fights and having these fights for decades.”