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Category: Politics, Health

Women’s Fight To Defend the Affordable Care Act Isn’t Over

| June 28, 2012


“I owe you ten dollars.”

So said a backpack-wearing dad from New Paltz, N.Y., to his freckled son of about ten years old outside the Supreme Court this morning, minutes after the announcement to a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd that Chief Justice John Roberts had joined the court’s four liberal justices in upholding not only the Affordable Care for Act, but also the individual coverage mandate at its heart.

Press and demonstrators had begun to arrive at the Supreme Court before dawn. By the time I arrived at 9 A.M., there were enough reporters and sign-waving citizens on the scene that my mobile coverage was non-existent for a four-block radius around the building, leaving me dependent on the crowd for news and information.

The first person I saw as I arrived at the Court was a NARAL Pro-Choice America staffer, waiting a block away for more NARAL volunteers to arrive. Other women’s groups I’d see on the scene included the Feminist Majority Foundation, Planned Parenthood, Raising Women’s Voices, and surely others I missed in the throng. Women’s or feminist groups aren’t always in perfect alignment with the Obama administration, not even on the issue of healthcare reform (quite a few of us, for example, haven’t forgotten the way abortion patients were used as a bargaining chip in the process of getting the law passed), but nonetheless, women had too much at stake in seeing the ACA upheld not to turn out in force.

It’s often a point that is lost in the overwhelmingly male-dominated corporate media, but healthcare reform’s disproportionate impact on women makes it a tremendously gendered issue. Even without maternity care benefits, women pay a billion dollars a year more for insurance coverage due to “gender rating”—the industry term for discrimination against women. That such discrimination is now illegal under the ACA would be a win worth fighting for all by itself, but that’s far from the only way in which the law’s affirmation by the Supreme Court is extraordinarily good news for women.

Unfortunately, quite a few of the usual anti-feminist suspects had turned out at the court today too. Anti-Affordable Care Act protesters had gathered on the south end of the plaza. Many were Tea Partiers (about ten of whom in "Tea Party Patriots" shirts stood in a circle trying to gin up a crowd chant of “Obamacare is economic slavery!” to little avail; perhaps their supporters were more aware than those holding the megaphones that the only thing like slavery is slavery), but a very large number were anti-choice groups. Students for Life, Americans United for Life, Priests for Life, and the Christian Defense Coalition were very visible. Both before and after the ruling, speakers from these groups were conducting unadulterated anti-choice rallies. They’d come prepared with “hey hey, ho ho, Roe v Wade has got to go” and the whole nine misogynist yards. Many of the speakers were pushing the discredited yet apparently still-popular “Obamacare funds abortion” lie.

Anti-choice conflation of abortion and fixing a broken healthcare system is notable in two ways. The first is that it shows that anti-choicers are actually willing to throw three hundred million Americans under the bus in order to keep women in their place. (And no, not “three hundred million minus people with good health care,” since most people who end up in medical bankruptcy had insurance when they became ill. I mean three hundred million Americans: all of us.) The second is that it suggests the way the right will move forward in fighting the ACA now that the conservative Supreme Court failed them: relentless incrementalism. Non-Profit Quarterly wrote today that moving forward, we can expect that “Congress could enact additional mechanisms to chip chip chip away at health insurance reform.” And Mother Jones writes, "Having failed to annhiliate the law in its entirety, they will now attempt to rip it apart piece by piece." Sound familiar? NPQ drives the point home with its example: “the House Appropriations Committee’s decision to ban federal government contracting with multi-state insurance plans that contain elective coverage of abortions.”

Clearly, obstructionism and an onslaught of small attacks is the way the American right fights a big law that grants freedoms that it doesn’t like. We’ll see more of that against the Affordable Care Act, starting first thing tomorrow morning. I suppose that’s democracy, or something like it. But until then, it felt pretty good to see that dad from New Paltz hug his son—who will be able to stay on his dad’s health plan until the age of 26 without fear of being dropped when he gets sick and actually needs to use his insurance—and say with a smile, “It’s the best ten dollars I ever lost.” And it felt pretty good today to have a reason to stand in the middle of a jostling, sweating, crowd and join in a chant of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”

The video below is shaky and loud and features a lot of footage of the backs of peoples' heads or the backs of peoples' signs--but if you want to know what it felt like to be in the crowd at the Supreme Court when the Affordable Care Act was upheld, this is it: