The Nation’s Katha Pollitt has an excellent in-depth story up about the battle over funding for long-term reversible contraceptives in Colorado–funding that was ended this year by Republicans after a protracted legislative battle with Republicans in the Colorado General Assembly. It’s a fight that Colorado Sen. Ellen Roberts figured prominently in as a nominally “moderate” Republican, who supporters had hoped would back continued funding for this program–but voted “no” on a budget amendment that represented her only chance to do so.
Pollitt’s story details the fight over the LARC program, which has been credited with dramatically lowering the rate of teenage pregnancy in the state, and leaves Roberts looking once again like a politician who sacrificed principle for electoral advantage:
You would think Colorado had found the holy grail of compromise in the abortion wars: a plan that would unite Democrats and Republicans, pro-choicers and anti-choicers, social liberals and fiscal conservatives. A plan that was, moreover, well-run, backed by evidence, supported by the state’s health department—and, to repeat, worked astonishingly well. You would think that when the state legislature had to decide whether to pass a bill funding the program after the private money runs out in June, the choice would be, in the pungent words of its Republican cosponsor, Don Coram, “a no-brainer.”
But you would be wrong. When the program began, Colorado’s state government was in Democratic hands, and the initiative enjoyed some bipartisan support. This was one reason the foundation picked Colorado for its pilot program: Chances were good that if it showed positive results, the state would take it over. But last November, Republicans won control of the State Senate and are on a kind of victory lap. Optimists predicted that the bill would sail through the legislature; instead, after it passed the Democrat-controlled House, Senate Republicans maneuvered the bill into a budget committee, where GOP lawmakers killed it. So much for the party of fiscal responsibility. “It’s insane not to be supportive of high-quality family planning if you want to reduce spending on public health,” Dr. David Turok, a leading expert on the IUD, told me. But what’s money when a fertilized egg might be in danger?
As Republican State Senator Kevin Lundberg put it, using an IUD could mean “stopping a small child from implanting.” (Fun fact: Lundberg is the head of the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee.) That IUDs work by preventing the implantation of fertilized eggs is a cherished conviction of abortion opponents, who reject the massive amount of scientific evidence that the devices work by preventing fertilization…
Into this Kevin Lundberg-toxified environment steps Sen. Ellen Roberts:
The clincher: No-cost birth control is already provided by the Affordable Care Act, so why should the state pony up? Republican Senator Ellen Roberts told me she might have supported the bill if she’d had a good answer for that… [Pols emphasis]
And there you have it, folks–Roberts finally gives a definitive answer on why she didn’t support funding for the LARC birth control program. But unfortunately for Roberts, Pollitt wasn’t buying:
Luckily, thanks to my access to the Internet and a telephone, I was able to help her out: The ACA doesn’t cover everyone; it doesn’t guarantee teens’ privacy; and although it’s supposed to provide access to every method of birth control with no co-pay, the fine print has allowed insurance companies to refuse to cover the more expensive, more effective methods. (In fact, President Obama recently rebuked insurers for these shenanigans.) Someday, the ACA may render programs like Colorado’s obsolete—but how many pregnant teenage girls will have dropped out of school by then? How many babies will be born to a girl or woman who is not in a good position to parent a child?
There’s no question that the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a Obamacare, that mandate zero-copay coverage for contraceptives is a good thing that has helped millions of women–but the ultimate goal of 100% health coverage for all Americans hasn’t been achieved, and many of the at-risk populations the LARC program targeted these very uninsured women.
Also…doesn’t Ellen Roberts oppose Obamacare? She voted against the legislation to set up Colorado’s “Amycare” health insurance exchange, and is now a leading troll of Obamacare in Colorado as chair of the insurance exchange oversight committee. Isn’t it therefore a little disingenuous to cite something she opposes as justification for voting against LARC funding?
To be honest, we think that under different political circumstances, Roberts may well have been a “yes” vote on LARC funding. But even the most charitable interpretation, that Roberts’ vote was influenced by political calculations as she ponders a Republican primary for higher office, amounts to a serious indictment of her credibility–on an issue she needs to be strong on to sell herself as a “moderate” in a general election. Then again, she can’t win a Republican primary wearing a “moderate” label.
The bottom line? Ellen Roberts may simply have no good options.