Jodi Liggett of Planned Parenthood shows off the empty chair reserved for Senator Jeff Flake
Jodi Liggett of Planned Parenthood shows off the empty chair reserved for Senator Jeff Flake
Alonso Parra

Talk to the Empty Chair: Don't Take Away Our Health Care, Senator Flake

Tarah Ausburn was 35 years old when she found out she had Stage 3 breast cancer.

“My oncologist told me, ‘If you don’t go through this aggressive treatment, you will be dead in three years,’” she said last night at a packed town hall organized by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona and Organizing For Action.

“It was a pretty shattering to me and my family.”

Ausburn, who works as a public-school teacher, was lucky to have good health insurance through her job. She had a bilateral mastectomy and was declared cancer-free.

But she still has to make a lot of trips to the doctor’s office.

“I still have to spend the rest of my life dealing with this, because cancer can come back,” she said. “Anytime I have a mole show up, or anything changes with my body, I have to get that checked out.”

She wanted to ask Arizona Senator Jeff Flake what he’d do for patients who aren’t fortunate enough to have employer-sponsored health insurance if Obamacare is repealed.

Only, the Republican wasn’t there. Organizers had left an empty chair at the front of the room with his name on it, while he accepted an award from the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association.

“We’re here in south Phoenix because this is the zip code where the most people in Arizona who were helped by the Affordable Care Act live,” Erin Connelly Martin, an organizer with Organizing For Action, pointed out. “The senator isn’t here — he’s up north, in a different kind of zip code.”

All week long, protesters have been demanding that Flake hold a town hall while Congress is on recess. Groups including Indivisible Arizona and Indivisible Phoenix organized a “Search Party for Flake” outside his home in Mesa on Saturday. There were protests outside his office on East Camelback Road on Tuesday and Wednesday.

And on Thursday night, a group of protesters demonstrated outside the Westin in Scottsdale, where he was attending the award ceremony.

Even though Flake wasn't there to hear them, people at the health-care town hall took turns sharing stories about how they'd benefited from Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act, both of which are currently threatened by Congress.

One woman said that, before the Affordable Care Act, she’d paid $100 a month for birth control that she needed because otherwise her cramps were so painful she’d pass out.

Another recalled how, before Obamacare, she’d been unable to get health insurance because she and her son both had Hepatitis C. Finally, she quit her job in order to lower her income just so that she could qualify for AHCCCS.

Yet another remembered how she and her husband and their business’ three employees had applied for health insurance, only to be turned down because she had asthma.


"We are the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn’t have health care for all," one woman pointed out. "You want to make America great again? Try to keep up."

We've reached out to Flake for comment and will update this post with his response. 


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