DURHAM — The Republican-led General Assembly’s cuts to programs providing health care for low-income female patients are part of a national attack on women that will only get worse if Mitt Romney is elected president, a pair of Democratic lawmakers and a health-care provider said Wednesday.
The news conference at a Durham free clinic was pointedly political, organized by the state Democratic Party to bolster President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in North Carolina by attacking his opponent’s position on health care.
“A Mitt Romney presidency would take away many of the benefits that have helped women and families already in North Carolina,” Rep. Deborah Ross of Raleigh said. “This isn’t the leadership we need or expect from a presidential candidate.”
Romney has said he would do away with the capstone of Obama’s presidency, the federal Affordable Care Act, if elected. The Romney campaign in North Carolina responded to the lawmakers’ news conference later Wednesday.
“Each night, too many women go to sleep wondering if they can pay the mortgage, if they can afford to put food on the table, and if their children will have a job after graduating from college,” spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in an email. “By all accounts, President Obama’s policies have failed women, like all Americans, and they deserve a president who will focus on getting America back on track.”
The news conference also served to fire parting shots at the GOP-controlled state legislature, which adjourned last week.
“In their fervor to impose their ideological views on the people of the state of North Carolina, they weakened the safety net for women and children in our state at the very time when we should be working to strengthen it,” Rep. Jennifer Weiss of Cary said of the legislature.
Ross and Weiss were joined by Sharon Elliot-Bynum, executive director of CAARE, a community resource center that includes Durham’s first free medical clinic. The three women faulted the General Assembly for doing away with a preventative health care fund paid for by tobacco settlement money. They also criticized the legislature for taking away the $212,000 it had given Planned Parenthood to provide teen pregnancy prevention and cancer screenings. When a judge ruled the state couldn’t single out Planned Parenthood, the legislature simply reworded the bill defunding the organization by not naming it.
Choices that hurt women
Elliot-Bynum said defunding Planned Parenthood – which provides a wide range of health services besides abortion (for which it receives no public money) – further strains a precarious network of preventative and referral medical services available in the state to low-income and uninsured patients. That, in turn, results in more people seeking treatment in hospital emergency rooms, a cost ultimately born by the rest of society.
Seventy percent of the people served in the free clinic are women, she added. The clinic focuses on preventative care for cancer, HIV, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity.
“Thanks to the budget approved last week by the General Assembly, access to affordable preventative care for thousands of women and children in our state may be a thing of the past,” she said.
Although the refrain “war on women” has been ridiculed as hyperbole, Ross said she wasn’t kidding.
Ross said budget cuts that potentially result in laying off large numbers of teachers, that fail to adequately fund domestic-violence prevent programs and that cut Medicaid are choices that hurt women the most.
“To try to sweep it under the rug and say these are just necessary cuts and not make it clear that these cuts disproportionately impact woman and children is simply to lie about what you’ve done,” Ross said.
Republican budget-writers have routinely said that there are many worthy programs that had to be cut in order to reach their goals of having a balanced budget without tax rate increases.