The XX Factor

Senate GOP Shoots Down Proposed Protection for Maternity Coverage, Free Contraception

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

After 1 a.m. on Thursday, Senate Republicans blocked a series of amendments that would have safeguarded individual parts of the Affordable Care Act that are popular among voters across the political spectrum. Democrats had proposed measures that would have codified the provisions that help people with preexisting conditions get fair insurance, protect children’s access to Medicaid, make it easier for veterans to get insurance, and let young people stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26. Republicans voted each one of them down.

They also narrowly blocked an amendment from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand that would have prevented Congress from touching the ACA’s provisions for women’s health care, even if it axed the bulk of the rest of the law. (The vote was 49-49, with Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, and Sen. Dean Heller, R-NV, voting with the Democrats.)*

Gillibrand’s amendment would have protected the parts of the ACA that require insurers to cover contraception at no cost to the patient, prevent them from treating pregnancy as a pre-existing condition, forbid them from charging women higher premiums than men just because of their gender, and mandate that they cover maternity care.

The 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act holds that all companies of 15 or more employees must provide insurance with maternity benefits if they provide health insurance at all. But before the ACA, most health care plans available for purchase by individuals did not include maternity coverage—just 12 percent did in 2013, according to the National Women’s Law Center, even though nine states required that insurers include maternity benefits on all plans. The ACA requires all individual insurance plans on the market to cover maternity care, and it prevents insurers from denying coverage to expectant parents by calling pregnancy a pre-existing condition, which they could previously do in nearly every state. Some insurers would deny potential clients a plan or charge them higher premiums if they’d had a Cesarean section in the past. The ACA ended that discriminatory practice.

Now, nearly every Republican in the Senate has registered opposition to the specific parts of the ACA that have saved women billions of dollars on birth control and, in all likelihood, a great many health complications for themselves and their babies due to increased access to adequate, affordable maternity benefits.

Committed ACA opponent and anti-abortion hardliner Rep. Tom Price, whom Donald Trump has nominated to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, has spoken at length with his conservative peers about protecting “innocent” fetuses and “human life” before birth. “Perhaps they will surprise us all and proceed in a more consistent manner, bringing equal fervor to their protection of the fetuses of women who choose to have abortions as they do to those fetuses of women who would like to count on safe, and affordable, pregnancy and delivery,” wrote Slate’s Elissa Strauss in December. The votes Republicans cast in the wee hours of Thursday morning prove otherwise.

Correction, Jan. 13, 2017: This post originally misidentified Sen. Susan Collins as Sen. Margaret Collins. Margaret is Collins’ middle name.