Courier News

Resistance Building In Central Jersey To GOP's Healthcare Policies

Protestors focused on the possibility of changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and cuts of federal aid to Planned Parenthood.

Courier News / — February 15, 2017

By Mike Deak

WESTFIELD — Armed with signs reading "Resist Trump," "Down with Trump, Down with Lance," "Medicare for All" and "Resist and Persist," they gather every Wednesday on the sidewalk outside Rep. Leonard Lance's (R-District 7) office on North Avenue to show they don't like what's going on in Washington.

This Wednesday, more than 50 people, most proud to be called "progressives," braved a chilly wind during evening rush hour to protest the possibility of changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and cuts of federal aid to Planned Parenthood.

Sometimes it was hard to hear what they were saying or, in some cases, singing because of the car horns being honked in solidarity.

The protesters ranged in age from the freshman president of the Westfield High School Young Democrats Club to those who took part in protests against the Vietnam War in their college days.

"This is amazing," Christine Sadovy, advocacy director of Planned Parenthood of Central and Greater Northern New Jersey, said about the turnout. A rally was also scheduled at the same time outside Lance's office in Raritan Township.

Sadovy said the Republican majority in Congress may remove Planned Parenthood from the Affordable Care Act, making birth control and other services of the organization unaffordable for women.

"Being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition," she said. "That's not fair."

"If Planned Parenthood is defunded, millions of people across the country would lose access to the vital preventive reproductive health care services they rely on," Sadovy said. "New Jersey residents do not want to see reproductive health care under attack, and that's why we are making our voices heard loud and clear."

"Women deserve access to health care no matter their insurance level," said Mara Natale of New Providence.

Her friend, Plainfield resident Robert Sanchez who carried a sign, "Bad Hombre and Nasty Woman for Planned Parenthood," said he came to the rally "to support Progressive values at a grassroots level."

Many motivations

While many of the protesters were there to support Planned Parenthood, others were more concerned about the cost and availability of health care if the Republican majority in Congress keeps its pledge to repeal the law.

Lisa O'Dwyer, of Westfield, said she feared that people would receive healthcare if the Affordable Care Act were repealed and a replacement was not adopted.

Because of pre-existing conditions, O'Dwyer said she would not be able to afford health insurance "if my husband loses his job" and no longer has health insurance if the law is repealed.

Westfield resident John Biel, who has two grown sons on Medicaid, said he was "opposed to repeal without replace," and was at the rally because "I want to know what's going to happen."

Healthcare remains a top priority for Lance.

"Humana's decision today to exit the Obamacare exchanges in 2018 reflects the realities of the failing law. Patients and families across New Jersey and the nation are faced with fewer choices and higher costs," said John Byers, Lance's director communications. "While some refuse to confront this reality, Congressman Lance has long supported a better way that reforms and repairs our health care system by putting patients first and delivering quality, affordable health care for all."

Colin Sumner, a 15-year-old Westfield High School freshman who is president of the school's Young Democrats Club, said he was at the rally to show his opposition to the policies of President Donald Trump.

In a Republican town like Westfield, he said, it was difficult starting the Young Democrats Club, which now has 15 to 20 members, and he once got "called out" by a teacher because he wore a T-shirt that said "Not My President."

Beverly Brown Ruggia, one of the organizers of the rally from New Jersey Citizen Action, asked those present to call Lance's Washington office and ask that he add another town hall meeting to his schedule.

Lance has scheduled his first town hall meeting of 2017 for Feb. 22 at Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg, but the RSVPs for the event were so great that no more RSVPs are being accepted for the 900-seat Edward Nash Theatre.

June Brow, of Cranford, held up a sign, "My arm is tired from carrying this sign since the 70s."

"Woman have been fighting for equal rights as long as I can remember," she said.

Continuing the fight

Wednesday's rally was another in a series of events to support Planned Parenthood across New Jersey.

On Saturday, the same day that anti-abortion protests were conducted outside several Planned Parenthood facilities around New Jersey, volunteers at 130 locations throughout the state conducted "take action house parties," according to Casey Olesko, communications manager for the organization's action fund.

"They were in every county," Olesko said. "They were all hosted by volunteers who invited friends and neighbors to their homes. They made Valentines for their Congressional representatives."

The Valentines had thank-you messages for representatives who support Planned Parenthood and messages about why the organization should be supported for those representatives who want to deny the organization federal funding.

On Monday, Rep. Frank Pallone, (D-District 6), one of the authors of the Affordable Care Act, visited the Planned Parenthood office in Perth Amboy to show his support of the organization. Palone was one of the authors of the Affordable Care Act.

"Planned Parenthood provides life-saving preventative care for millions of patients each year, " Pallone said in a statement released after the visit. "Yet, Congressional Republicans' obsession with demonizing the organization and denying women's access to health care has reached a dangerous level. More than 100,000 New Jersey residents are served each year by Planned Parenthood's 26 health centers in our state, nine of which are located in medically underserved areas. It is our responsibility to step up and stand with Planned Parenthood."

Planned Parenthood feels this is especially crucial in New Jersey, where state funding for reproductive health and other related women's health services have not had state funding since 2010. In that year, Governor Chris Christie cut $7.45 million from the New Jersey state budget that funded preventive health-care services, such as cancer screenings, contraception, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS. Planned Parenthood and other providers closed some health center doors when this funding was cut, said Casey Olesko with Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey.

Since then, the organization has been able to fund some of its work because of the insurance payments provided to its clients under the ACA. If the ACA is cut, it will make Planned Parenthood's services that much more difficult to provide, supporters say.

Throughout its history, Planned Parthood has focused on reproductive health services. While opponents of the organization have focused on the fact that Planned Parenthood provides abortion services. it also provides cancer screenings, contraception, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS.

A 2016 report, "Women's Health at Risk" by Rebecca Barson and Olesko, explains the cost benefits of investing in these services.

"A small investment in family planning goes a long way, making these cuts even more devastating. Every dollar invested in publicly funded family planning services saves over $7 in other public funding," according to the study.

The report breaks down the rise of different diseases throughout the state since 2009, the last year that the state funded the screenings, vaccinatons and other services described above. In Morris County, for example, where a health center closed, the report says the increase in bacterial sexually transmited infections rose 46.2 percent. Overall, the statewide increase has been 27.1 percent.

In Somerset County, 4 percent of women 18 to 64 are uninsured, and that rises to 6 percent among women 18 to 34. There are about 608 AIDS cases and 749 sexually transmitted infection cases, an increase of 49.8 percent since 2009. About 65,700 women are in need of contraceptive services.

In Middlesex County, 6 percent of women 18 to 64 are uninsured, and that rises to 10 percent among women 18 to 34. There are 2,172 AIDS cases and about 2,489 cases of sexually transmitted infections, a rise of 25.1 percent since 2009. About 181,180 women are in need of contraceptive services.

In Union County, 7 percent of women 18 to 64 are uninsured, which rises to 11 percent among women 18 to 34. There are 2,917 2 people living with AIDS and 454 living with sexually transmitted infections, a rise of 17.2 percent. About 115,820 women are in need of contraceptive services.

Olesko said the action fund is focusing this year on restoring state funding. She pointed out that in every year since Gov. Christie cut this funding out of the budget, the state legislature has voted to restore it, but the governor has vetoed it.

Planned Parenthood will be conducting monthly activitist nights to strategize and coordinate its efforts. Olesko said she knows that one strategy will be to attend public meetings about funding. But beyond that, there will be other efforts that aren't yet planned.

In addition to public funding, Planned Parenthood has an annual fundraiser in April, and that event will be crucial this year, she added.


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