Three Democratic senators introduced a bill Tuesday to draw attention to the non-abortion services offered by Planned Parenthood and Americans who benefit from those services, aiming to draw contrast with Republicans who have included a plan to defund the organization in their health care bill, which will get a vote in the House on Thursday.
Sponsored by Senators Patty Murray of Washington, Kirsten GIllibrand of New York, and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, the legislation would allocate federal funds to Planned Parenthood, and other similar healthcare providers, for cancer screenings, specifically for low-income patients and women of color.
The bill, called the Invest in Women’s Health Act of 2017, has a slim chance of gaining bipartisan support and passing the Senate. But it was introduced as a direct response to the House GOP health care bill, which repeals parts of Obamacare and strips Planned Parenthood of its federal Medicaid reimbursement — a move which would overwhelmingly affect low-income women.
“I am disappointed that Republicans continue to attack our health care system and villainize health care providers like Planned Parenthood that provide cancer screenings to millions of women," Murray told BuzzFeed News in a statement. "Funding for health care providers like Planned Parenthood is vitally important, and I am going to keep pushing Republicans to abandon these reckless and dangerous attempts to undermine women’s availability to safe and affordable health care.”
Tacking on the defunding of Planned Parenthood to the healthcare replacement may prove problematic for the bill, particularly in the Senate. Moderate Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said they could not support the bill as is and Senate Republicans can only afford to lose a single vote in order to pass the it. A recent poll by Quinnipiac University found that defunding Planned Parenthood is opposed by 62% of Americans, although 63% of those who identified as Republicans said they support defunding.
As the senators introduced the bill Tuesday, women gathered at a protest outside the Capitol building to read personal stories of their abortions aloud and, later, to go door-to-door to senators’ offices to ask them not to vote to defund Planned Parenthood.
In addition to increasing funding for Planned Parenthood and similar health care providers, the Invest in Women’s Health Act requires the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a new study “to better understand and address care for women including state analyses, cost estimates for federal dollar savings, and recommendations.”
The request for this study addresses a debate in Congress over whether other health care organizations would be able to absorb Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid patients not seeking abortions, should Planned Parenthood stop receiving reimbursements from the federal government.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has repeatedly argued that allocating Planned Parenthood’s nearly $500 million in federal reimbursements to existing community health centers would enable those local organizations to take on more patients. Ryan and many other Republican members of Congress argue that taxpayers should not have to fund an organization that practices abortion when many of them don’t agree with the procedure, even though a federal law prevents federal funds — including those reimbursements to Planned Parenthood — from going toward abortion.
“Our goal is making sure women get the kind of care they need and we believe that can best be achieved by putting money into community health centers, which provide similar services as Planned Parenthood but vastly outnumber them,” a spokesperson for Ryan told BuzzFeed News.
It is true there are many more community health centers than Planned Parenthood centers, but many of them don’t offer as many services as Planned Parenthood does and even of those that do, many have said they would not be able to handle any more patients — including those in Ryan’s own district.