It seems everyone at the various health-care protests in Washington this week brought a story.
The Pennsylvania man who relied on the Affordable Care Act for his dialysis and was willing to get arrested so his senator understood the legislation was life and death. The D.C. woman who feared that her 27-year-old, nonverbal, autistic brother would be forced into an institution without Medicaid. And the Arlington father, Rick Hodges, who wondered if the Republican-proposed health-care bill would afford his teenage daughter with Down syndrome the opportunity to live a semi-independent life as an adult.
“It’s about so much more than health insurance,” Hodges said. “She has a preexisting condition. The country has chosen Medicaid to be the source of funding for people with disabilities. That’s terrifying for people with disabilities and their families.”
Hodges joined a rally Wednesday in front of the U.S. Capitol urging the Senate to reject health-care legislation curbed in the Senate, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates would leave 22 million more people uninsured by 2026. It was one in a string of legal and illegal protests on Capitol Hill this week decrying the bill.
On Wednesday, U.S. Capitol Police arrested 40 people who blocked hallways in Senate office buildings demanding to meet with their senators.
“Please Mr. Toomey, don’t let me die. Sen. Toomey, will you kill me?” a group of about 10 Pennsylvania protesters with severe illnesses chanted in front of the office of Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.). U.S. Capitol Police officers dragged protesters away in handcuffs as they chanted, “Kill the bill, don’t kill me.”
Similar protests were staged in the offices of Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
Eva Malecki, a spokeswoman for U.S. Capitol Police, said officers responded to numerous incidents of protests in office buildings, making arrests if demonstrators did not leave when asked.
“After officers arrived on the scene, they warned the demonstrators to cease and desist with their unlawful demonstration activities,” Malecki wrote in a statement, saying that protesters were charged with crowding, obstructing or incommoding. “Those who refused to cease and desist were placed under arrest.”
Later in the afternoon on Wednesday, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in front of the Capitol for a rally organized by Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and other progressive groups. The Senate bill would block federal funding to the women’s health organization.
Protesters said the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) delayed a vote on the legislation until after the July 4 recess meant protests were working.
“It’s a sign of how powerful people’s voices can be,” said Erica Sackin, director of political communications at Planned Parenthood. “But it’s too soon to claim victory. The bill is moving fast, and it may have been delayed, but we know that the fight’s not over.”
Several high-profile Democrats spoke at Wednesday’s rally, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), Rep. John Lewis (Ga.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), and Sens. Chris Murphy (Conn.) and Cory Booker (N.J.).
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress,” Booker said, quoting a famous line by Frederick Douglass.
At a 23-hour interfaith prayer vigil nearby, clergy members and community leaders prayed that Medicaid would be preserved and the Senate would reject the health-care legislation. The vigil was to end Thursday afternoon.
Earlier in the week, protesters dressed as women from “The Handmaid’s Tale” stormed Capitol Hill as part of a protest organized by Planned Parenthood. In the novel and subsequent TV series, a right-wing religious group rules the country and fertile women are forced into reproductive servitude.
Last week, more than 40 disability advocates were arrested in front of McConnell’s office after the protesters, most of whom had a disability, removed themselves from wheelchairs and staged a “die-in.”
Raquel Bernstein, a policy intern for the National Council for Independent Living who attended Wednesday’s rally in front of the Capitol, said the bill would devastate many in the disability community who rely on Medicaid to live independently. Bernstein, 22, has arthrogryposis and is covered by her parents’ insurance.
“The last thing people want to do is go to institutions,” she said. “They would go without care and die before going to an institution.”