Following Senate Republicans’ unsuccessful push to ban abortion after 20 weeks, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. hosted a roundtable discussion in the Elm City on Thursday to hear from medical providers and local residents.

About 50 people attended the event, which was held at Planned Parenthood of Southern New England and focused on issues ranging from abortion laws to Medicare funding and the future of the healthcare market without the individual mandate. Over the span of an hour, Murphy answered attendees’ questions and listened to them share their experiences. He emphasized the urgency of the moment for advocates of abortion rights and women’s health.

“We live in a pro-choice state,” Murphy said. “But all the work we have done in Connecticut could be undone by laws that are on the cusp of passage [in the U.S. Congress].”

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would outlaw most aborftions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, failed to clear the 60-vote threshold needed to break a Democratic filibuster. The 51–46 tally fell mostly along party lines, with three Democrats — U.S. Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., Joe Donnelly, D-Ind. and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. — voting in favor and two Republicans — U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Ala. — voting against. An identical bill passed the House by a simple majority in October.

Though the bill currently has no chance of passage, Murphy said, it could become law if the Senate moves to eliminate the filibuster by lowering the votes needed for cloture from 60 to 50. He said many of the “exceptions” in the bill establish forbidding standards, such as requiring physicians to provide proof of a risk of death to perform an abortion.

“It is very hard to prove upfront,” Murphy said of such standards. “The risk of litigation to physicians would be crippling for the health care system.”

The bill does not include exemptions for fetal defects or other threats to the health of the mother.

Murphy also called attention to other fronts of the health care debate, including Republican efforts to cut Medicaid and defund Planned Planned Parenthood as well as U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order in October which allowed health care providers to deny coverage of contraceptives. He commended the work of those on the “ground floor of the fight” and urged constant vigilance.

Sally Grossman, a resident from Windsor, said that Medicaid helped her afford essential maternity care and deliver a healthy baby when she could not obtain such benefits as a self-employed individual. Several years later, she again received help from Medicaid in terminating an unexpected and nonviable pregnancy under consultation with her doctor.

“When I hear lawmakers trying to legislate what procedures and timeframes doctors can do, it makes me feel like my worth to them is no more important than my reproductive organs,” Grossman said.

Physician Miriam Cohen said that because of the elimination of the individual mandate by the recent tax reform, the Connecticare plan she was enrolled in saw a double-digit increase, forcing her to switch to another plan that does not cover transplants. Murphy noted that as premiums are set to soar in the coming years, many consumers will instead opt for “association plans,” which do not cover prescription or birth control, creating health risks for patients.

In response to an audience question, Murphy said Connecticut should “take a hard look at” the establishment of a state-wide individual mandate, similar to what Massachusetts adopted in 2006, should health care costs skyrocket. But he demurred to the suggestion that Democrats block any Trump nominee to the Supreme Court if they retake the Senate this year. He said Democrats would demand a real say in the selection of the nominee, but he would not support mimicking Republicans’ refusal to even consider Merrick Garland in 2016.

“I think that’s a rabbit hole our country would never recover from,” Murphy said.

Murphy also commented on newly appointed Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar LAW ’91. He said that although Azar, an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act, is expected to continue the agenda of the Trump administration, he is not as much of an “ideologue” as his predecessor Tom Price.

The Planned Parenthood of Southern New England provides sexual and reproductive health services to Connecticut and Rhode Island. In an interview with the News, Amanda Skinner, the president and chief executive officer, said that the agency is fortunate to have a supportive state environment. Still, she sounded an alarm about the possible elimination of the Title X funding, which provides health care funding for low-income individuals.

“It is at risk based on what we are hearing coming out of the HHS,” Skinner said.

Planned Parenthood of Southern New England was founded in 1923.

Malcolm Tang |