While the budget showdown is getting the lion’s share of the attention, another conservative strategy to derail Obamacare is quietly forming on the right. The idea is to keep people from actually going to their computers and signing up for health insurance through the health care exchanges that open on Oct. 1. To do this, conservatives are borrowing a strategy from a much older and more established movement, the anti-abortion movement. Because if you want to reduce people’s access to health care, then of course the people you want to imitate are anti-choicers, who are the world experts on trying to throw up obstacle between patients and doctors.
As documented by Jill Filipovic at Salon, the anti-abortion movement has long used a two-pronged strategy to keep women from getting to abortion providers when they need them: 1) Use your activist wing to make the actual process of going to the doctor seem fraught with peril and 2) back this up by having the government throw as many obstacles as they can legally get away with between you and your doctor. This strategy, while not doing much to reduce the actual abortion rate, has successfullyreduced the number of providers in the country and created a burgeoning black marketfor abortion drugs.
Now the same tactics are being used by the anti-Obamacare movement. Since there’s no physical location to sign up for Obamacare for protesters to target, conservatives have had to get creative in trying portray the experience of signing up for health insurance as dangerous. Generation Opportunity, Koch brothers-funded group, is running ads that dishonestly suggest that people who sign up for Obamacare will be subject to unnecessarily invasive and torturous medical testing. One ad specifically insinuates that the gynecological tests women will be able to afford if they get insured are close to sexual assault, an idea that is directly borrowed from anti-choice rhetoric that equates getting an abortion with assault. (Unsurprisingly, Generation Opportunity employs at least one prominent anti-abortion activist.)
The idea that getting health insurance through the exchanges is tantamount to experiencing sexual mortification is evident also in the claims that are cropping up on the right that signing up will mean that your sexual history is put in some kind of database to be used for nefarious purposes. It’s absolutely untrue, of course, but the threat that merely signing up for insurance will result in you being “outed” as a sexually active person is highly reminiscent of the way that anti-choice protesters try to induce sexual shame in abortion patients by showing up at clinics, taking pictures, and writing down license plate numbers. The message is consistent: You can’t get an abortion — and now, sign up for Obamacare — without having your privacy violated.
On the government level, a common anti-abortion tactic is to claim that abortion is somehow unsafe and therefore the government needs to pass a bunch of regulations that, in actuality, are just about making abortion hard to get. This strategy is being borrowed wholesale by Republican leaders looking for a way to put obstacles in between people and the health care exchanges. Gov. Rick Scott (R) and Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) of Florida have been running around making hysterical, unfounded claims that the navigator program — which is just a federal program that hires people to help the uninsured navigate the new health care exchanges—is somehow some grave threat to people’s privacy. Bondi has gone as far as to suggest that using a navigator to sign up for insurance will be at risk of identity theft. As anti-choicers use trumped-up concerns about abortion’s safety as cover to pass regulations making it harder to get, Scott is using these trumped-up concerns about the navigator program’s safety to bar the navigators from using state offices.
Florida isn’t alone in this. Seventeen states have passed laws making it harder for the navigators to operate. Unsurprisingly, these states also tend to be the ones that pass a bunch of unnecessary restrictions on abortion access, and the anti-navigator laws are highly reminiscent of the legal harassment conservatives subject abortion providers to, as well. Just as many states pass laws forcing doctors to recite anti-abortion scripts written by politicians, states like Missouri and Georgia are trying to meddle with the navigator interaction, even going as far as to try to control the language they use. Other states are passing unnecessary laws that require navigators to pay fees and subject themselves to a bunch of extra training, even though the federal government already trains navigators.
It should be no surprise to see anti-abortion tactics being replicated in the war on Obamacare. It’s basically the same people who are running both movements, for one thing. More importantly, the anti-abortion and anti-Obamacare movements are strongly linked by the conservative obsession with trying to control who gets health care and under what circumstances. Unfortunately, because of this link, we can expect that, just as with the anti-choice movement, the anti-Obamacare movement probably won’t just go away if they lose the first battle. They’ll probably hang around for years or even decades, trying to find novel ways to reduce people’s access to safe, affordable health care.
Marcotte is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about liberal politics, the religious right and reproductive health care. She’s a prolific Twitter villain who can be followed @amandamarcotte.