Two female senators, perhaps the most moderate Republicans in the Senate, have gotten many well-deserved thank-yous for going against their party and voting down a “skinny” repeal of Obamacare late Thursday night. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have stood stalwart against a few instances of GOP B.S. this year, including the Senate’s initial Obamacare repeal attempt and Betsy DeVos’ nomination as Secretary of Education.
But their votes on Thursday came at a particularly critical moment, under extreme pressure and gendered attacks from members of their own party. One unforgivably doofy Republican Congressman from Texas said on a radio show that he would like to have a duel-to-the-death with the “female senators” who stood in the way of Obamacare repeal, but since they are but ladies, he would hold himself back. (Wonder if he’d roll back that statement now that John McCain, a verifiable man, cast the final, deciding vote against the legislation.) When asked about Murkowski and Collins, a Republican Congressman from Georgia said someone should “snatch a knot in [the Senate’s] ass,” meaning hit them. Trump specifically targeted Murkowski on Twitter, riling up his supporters to go after her, and the Secretary of the Interior threatened to stop Alaska drilling projects if she didn’t vote the president’s way.
Weaker legislators might have stuck to the party line in defiance of their consciences. (See: the Republican senators who said they’d only vote for the bill if they got a guarantee that it wouldn’t become law.) Standing up to a crowd of peers making glib references to physical violence and real threats to legislative priorities could not have been easy.
Braver still was Collins’ public statement on why she voted against the bill. She makes arguments against both the Affordable Care Act as is and the plans Senate Republicans have proposed, then outlines a key reason for her opposition to the bills her peers wrote: the provision that would have prevented Planned Parenthood from getting reimbursed for any services provided to patients on Medicaid, who make up more than half the health organization’s client base. Collins’ defense of Planned Parenthood was as accurate and passionate as any Democrat’s should be, far beyond the compassion or mental capacity of her male contemporaries in the GOP:
Millions of women across the country rely on Planned Parenthood for family planning, cancer screening, and basic preventive health care services. Denying women access to Planned Parenthood not only runs contrary to our goal of letting patients choose the health care provider who best fits their needs, but it also could impede timely access to care.
If Planned Parenthood were defunded, other family planning clinics in Maine, including community health centers, would see a 63 percent increase in their patient load. Some patients would need to drive greater distances to receive care, while others would have to wait longer for an appointment.
Collins also did away with the persistent right-wing lie that federal taxpayer money is funding abortions:
Let me be clear that this is not about abortion. Federal law already prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at risk.
This is about interfering with the ability of a woman to choose the health care provider who is right for her. This harmful provision should have no place in legislation that purports to be about restoring patient choices and freedom.
It’s so unnerving to read an honest, humane assessment of women’s health care from a Republican! Murkowski, too, has been a vocal supporter of Planned Parenthood’s continued eligibility for Medicaid reimbursements and federal family-planning grants. This in spite of the very real risk that being women advocating for so-called women’s issues could further alienate Republican men in the Senate who didn’t even think women belonged at the drafting table in the first place. Together, with their adjoining desks, Collins and Murkowski have proven that female legislators have some of the strongest spines in Congress. That strength comes in numbers, even when that number is two.