The hour-long conversation Friday morning started with women’s reproductive rights, migrated to health care, and ended with a little campaign strategy.
Eight women talked with U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, who is running for the U.S. Senate, about the “War on Women,” access to contraception, and how they don’t believe the Affordable Care Act went far enough in creating access to care.
The discussion held in Katherine Brun’s West Hartford living room was the first of five Murphy plans to hold throughout the state as he prepares for the Aug. 14 primary against former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz. The Murphy campaign said the discussions will give its candidate an opportunity to hear from a diverse group of women.
Donna Stimpson of Meriden expressed concern about the merger between Waterbury Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital. She said she’s concerned it allows a faith-based group to keep whittling away at services, such as a tubal ligation, a procedure to block the fallopian tubes, which can be done safely and conveniently after a Cesarean section.
Murphy said Connecticut is lucky to have a strong regulatory process for hospital mergers, but agreed that public funds being given to these institutions come with great responsibility.
He said sending a women home after a C-section, only to make her return for a tubal ligation is “clearly compromising the health of the patient.”
Rachel Garron, who is married to a doctor, said Catholic hospitals going broke and trying to merge with public hospitals seems to be an increasing trend.
“The Catholic hospital is broke, yet it insists on being the decision-maker,” in these mergers, she said. “Where is the Catholic Church to bail them out?”
Garron added that it’s also frustrating to hear these issues being framed as “women’s issues.”
“It’s a family issue because it affects men, as well as women,” she said.
“It’s a challenge to force all of us to reframe the conversation,” Murphy said.
“We have let the right frame ‘family values’ for too many years,” Garron said.
When the Republicans ask if we want a European-type healthcare plan, we shouldn’t be afraid to say, “yes,” she said.
Brun, who hosted the conversation in her West Hartford living room, said she had two of her three children in foreign countries—one in Japan and one in Canada—where maternity leave and prenatal and post-natal services weren’t ever a question or concern.
In fact, maternity leave is up to one year for new mothers in some countries, another woman added.
Garron urged Murphy, a Democrat, to get his colleagues to be more “aggressive” and “pushback” against Republicans who make these statements.
Murphy, who was asked as a member of the House to repeal the Affordable Care Act for the 33rd time this week, said Democrats could have done a better job of framing the debate. He said the legislation which was upheld by the Supreme Court last month is a commitment that “healthcare is a right.”
But aside from healthcare, Francesca Borges of Hartford, wanted to know a little more about Murphy’s campaign strategy, such as how he plans to get statewide name recognition and appeal to a broader base of voters.
“My challenge has been I’m running for United States Senate while I’m a Congressman,” Murphy said. “I was essentially not going to be a full-time, statewide candidate for two years. That I had an obligation to represent my district and I was going to spend the vast majority of my time doing my job.
“That certainly is a risk,“ Murphy admitted.
According to the June Quinnipiac University poll, about 46 percent of those surveyed didn’t know enough about him to form an opinion. The same poll showed only about 16 percent hadn’t heard of Republican Linda McMahon, who trailed Murphy by just three points in a general election match-up.
Now with a month to go before the Aug. 14 primary and nearly five months before the November election, Murphy said he’s spending as much time as he can on the campaign.
With offices across the state being opened over the past 30 days, Murphy said the other thing that makes his job difficult as a candidate is the constant fundraising calls he has to make. He pointed out that McMahon—who self-funded her 2010 U.S. Senate race to the tune of $50 million—doesn’t have to worry about raising money because she has enough.
He said he has to spend about five hours per day on the phone raising money so he can remain competitive.
Murphy said he’s not taking the Aug. 14 primary against Bysiewicz for granted. He said he does worry about the primary “because you never know who shows up for an August election.”
Turnout is also a question for the general election.
“Is there going to be the enthusiasm in 2012 that there was in 2008?” Murphy said.
In 2008 with President Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, young people, African-Americans, and Hispanics turned out to vote.
“I think there’s a question mark this year about whether people are going to be as excited as they were in the past,” Murphy said.