What Women’s Election Day Victories Mean for the Affordable Care Act

Women’s economic security and access to health care have been under threat since long before President Trump took office, but his election acted as a catalyst—accelerating attacks on our bodily autonomy, health and basic rights. Trump and his allies have undermined the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in every branch of our government—pushing policies that destabilized the insurance market, caused premiums to skyrocket and expanded short-term junk insurance policies that don’t cover basic services like maternity care.

The midterm results were a direct reproach to that agenda. More women ran for and won elected office than ever before, often building platforms around protecting the ACA and pre-existing conditions—and health care was cited time and again as the top issue for women voters, who carried them to victory.

Feminists demonstrated at the Supreme Court in support of the Affordable Care Act in 2016 during oral arguments in a case seeking to weaken its contraceptive coverage mandate. (Victoria Pickering / Creative Commons)

None of this should come as a surprise. Women, especially women of color, have benefitted exponentially from the ACA. Since its implementation, 9.5 million women have gained health insurance and 55 million women are now guaranteed essential benefits like maternity care and birth control coverage, which were often excluded from policies previously. Before the ACA, insurers also routinely charged women up to 1.5 times more than men for the same policy because of common health issues like endometriosis, depression or even pregnancy, and nearly 80 percent of women become mothers but giving birth or having been pregnant was considered a pre-existing condition. Experts estimate that over half of all women and girls—67 million people—have pre-existing conditions.Thanks to the ACA, we’re now protected against that kind of gender discrimination.

The election of more than 100 women to Congress also served as a lightning rod of resistance against the scaled-up attacks on women’s reproductive health and rights that we’ve seen over the past two years, issues that go right to the core of women’s equality and economic security, and made clear a national demand for representation in Congress that reflects the current demographics and values of our country. Polls show that support for legal abortion is at historic highs among Democratic women voters, and growing among Republicans. (More than half of Republican women want Roe v. Wade kept intact.)

That’s also no surprise: One in four U.S. women will have an abortion before she’s 45, and those women are Democrats and Republicans. If we lose Roe, women everywhere will suffer—and women across party lines and state lines know that the right to our autonomy is the right to our destiny. Women know that the ability to choose if, when and how to have kids is inextricably linked to their economic success, health and wellbeing. Restricting or denying abortion access does irrevocable harm to our careers, families and economic security; research shows that women who are denied abortions and forced to carry pregnancies to term are four times more likely to experience poverty. Unwanted births also result in negative outcomes for children compared with planned pregnancies.

Make no mistake: the anti-abortion movement definitely had some wins this year, including the passage of personhood measures in Alabama and West Virginia and the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. But the wave of feminists taking seats in the House come January will surely stymy some of the persistent efforts to shame, pressure and punish women for the decisions they make about their own lives that we’ve seen growing under Trump’s administration.

The majority of women voters cast their ballots for Democrats because they know women cannot be equal without reliable access to affordable health care and the ability to make choices about their bodies. In November, 41 percent of voters cited health care as the issue driving them to the polls. Women make up half of the population, the workforce and the electorate. Recognition for our voting power across party lines is long overdue, and guaranteeing women the right to plan their own families, and futures, is a fundamental part of that.

The historic wins for women on Election Day were also victories for the Affordable Care Act and the people who rely on its benefits—and that’s no coincidence. In Washington, the new feminists in Congress will have the great responsibility of echoing the message voters sent them in the midterms: respect women’s rights and protect our health care.

Margarida Jorge is the executive director of Health Care for America Now, the national grassroots coalition that ran a $60 million five-and-a-half year campaign from 2008-2013 to pass, protect and promote the Affordable Care Act and protect Medicare and Medicaid. HCAN has come back together to fight the Republicans’ all-out effort to take away America’s health care and put people at the mercy of the health insurance companies again.

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