WASHINGTON — Among the masses that descended on the nation’s capital Saturday for the Women’s March was Katie MacMillan, a fourth-year medical student.
“This isn’t all about ‘Not-Trump,'” said MacMillan, referring to Donald Trump, who was sworn in as the 45th president on Friday. An aspiring pediatrician at Quillen College of Medicine in Johnson City, Tenn., MacMillan wants to ensure that women’s reproductive rights are respected, as are vaccination criteria for U.S. children.
“We want women to have access to anything they need to to make the right choices for their bodies,” she said.
As for vaccines, MacMillan said people mistakenly associate them with autism because symptoms of the condition often surface around the time when their children get their shots, but the two events are unrelated. “A lot of people are afraid, and I think fear motivates people in a bad way to make uninformed choices,” she emphasized.
Many marchers were in step with MacMillan, armed with signs and banners that promoted reproductive rights and “Medicare for All,” among other hot button issues.
Annie Kolarik, a fellow fourth-year medical student, agreed that Trump wasn’t the only reason for the protest, stating that “the need to fight for women’s rights’ existed before Trump and will exist long after he’s gone.”
MacMillan and Kolarik were joined by other healthcare professionals on the day after Trump’s inauguration. “Sister protests” were held all around the world, including in Boston, Chicago, Miami, New York, Denver, and London.
Saving the ACA
Some healthcare advocates were there to stump for the beleaguered Affordable Care Act (ACA). Late on Friday, Trump signed an executive order pressing government departments to “change, delay or waive provisions of the law that they deemed overly costly for insurers, drug makers, doctors, patients or states,” according to the New York Times. The move will essentially allow the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to begin unraveling the law before Congress can repeal it.
Elizabeth Collins, MD, a resident at Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia who drove to Washington with friends, told MedPage Today “Our whole goal is ultimately single-payer healthcare but [the ACA] is about as close as we’ve gotten.”
“I think people appreciated seeing a doctor’s presence … to offer perspective that healthcare providers are on the side of the American people,” Ragins said in a phone interview.
Since the ACA was implemented, Ragins said he has been able to help patients, who have presented in the emergency department, gain healthcare coverage. “To be able to say [to a patient], ‘It sounds like you have a chronic condition that’s going to require specialist care … and you need to get health insurance, so that you can do that’ … to be able to do that from the emergency department is huge.”
Paris, a retired psychiatrist from Nashville, Tenn., told MedPage Today, that while she was pleased to see 20 million people get insurance through the ACA, she believes the law is flawed.
On the other hand, repealing the ACA will result in a “leaner and meaner” ACA under a different name, she said.
Paris said she does agree with conservatives that the ACA triggered “needless expense and bureaucracy,” but those same conservatives have told her a single payer system is not “politically feasible.”
Still, she is undeterred: “I will not tolerate another administration and another 4 years of incrementalism.”
A call for maintaining reproductive rights was a dominant theme, with chants of “Women’s rights are human rights.” The main march was co-sponsored by Planned Parenthood, with NARAL Pro-Choice America and Emily’s List named as “social justice partners.”
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL, said that she was proud her organization was taking part in the event.
“The diversity driving these marches and the progressive values they represent demonstrate the strength of the grassroots political power at the core of this movement. It also sends a strong message to the anti-choice politicians trying to roll-back our right to access basic reproductive health-care, including abortion,” she said in a press release.
A representative for the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) said in an email that it was not participating in the march “in any kind of official capacity.” ACOG did not issue any statements regarding the march, although last week, it did officially stand against a House bill (HR 490) that bans abortion after the detection of the fetal heartbeat, which occurs as early as 6 weeks gestation, measured from the woman’s last menstrual period.
“This bill is both unconstitutional and unnecessary political interference in the practice of medicine,” according to an ACOG news release.
“It is interesting to us that with all the talk about focus on women, none of the participants will cover the documented association between abortion and preterm birth, abortion and breast cancer, and abortion and psychological suffering,” Harrison stated in an email, adding that the organization will take part in the March for Life on January 27.