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From the Rose Garden to the Capitol, a Dark Day for Women’s Health

Women's March 1950's
Women's March 1950's
Georgeanne M. Usova,
Former Senior Legislative Counsel
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May 4, 2017

Today the Trump Administration and Congress doubled down on their dangerous agenda for women’s health.

First, in a Rose Garden ceremony, President Donald Trump signed an executive order squarely aimed at rolling back the Affordable Care Act’s guarantee of birth control coverage. While it was less sweeping than the leaked draft order that circulated months ago, make no mistake: It is a license to discriminate. It means that soon a woman and her family could lose birth control coverage — an employment benefit she has earned —simply because her boss has a religious objection to it. Women could be literally paying for their bosses’ religious beliefs.

Then, just down the street, the House of Representatives narrowly passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA) — the Affordable Care Act repeal bill championed by the President. The bill would threaten access to health care for millions of people, with the burden falling hardest on people with disabilities, LGBT people, low-income people, communities of color, and, yes, women. It would block patients from accessing care at Planned Parenthood, gut coverage requirements for maternity care, and put even more restrictions on coverage for abortion care. In short, it would make it harder for women to access the care they need, whether they seek to prevent or terminate a pregnancy, to have a healthy pregnancy, or to raise a healthy family.

Taken together, these two actions roll back many of the strides the ACA made toward eliminating discrimination against women seeking health care.

The ACA expanded access to a wide range of birth control methods — along with other women’s preventive services like annual wellness exams, breastfeeding support, and STI testing and counseling — by ensuring they were fully covered without a co-pay. Access to birth control is critical to women’s equality. It enables us to pursue education and careers, to plan whether and when to have children, and to lead full, healthy lives.

But with today’s executive order, the president has called for new rules on the ACA’s guarantee of coverage for birth control and other women’s preventive services. Already, houses of worship with objections to this coverage are exempt from providing it to their employees. For certain other organizations, an accommodation currently acts a workaround to ensure that employees and their families get the coverage they need despite their bosses’ religious objections. The new rules — which we haven’t yet seen — could effectively gut the guarantee by creating a broad religious exemption that allows more employers to interfere in their employees’ health care. Combined with the fact that the ACA repeal bill passed in the House today would leave millions of women without insurance coverage at all, this represents a serious setback to birth control access across the country.

Of course, the ACA repeal bill doesn’t stop there in attacking women’s health. It would “defund” Planned Parenthood by blocking Medicaid patients from seeking care at Planned Parenthood health centers, directly targeting the low-income patients that Planned Parenthood serves and blocking their access to lifesaving preventive care like cancer screenings, breast exams, STI tests and treatment, and birth control. As a result, Planned Parenthood health centers, which 2.5 million people rely on for care every year, may be forced to close their doors.

The bill would allow states to waive essential health benefits standards, giving insurance companies free rein to exclude coverage for maternity care, newborn care, mental health and substance use treatment, prescription drugs, and more. This would force women to return to the days when they paid extra for maternity coverage, which was often excluded from individual plans before the ACA.

The AHCA would also attack abortion access by effectively eliminating abortion coverage from the private insurance market. For many women, insurance coverage for abortion means the difference between getting the care they need or not — which can have devastating consequences for women who are already struggling to get by.

Not only that, but in eliminating the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions, the AHCA would once again make being a woman a pre-existing condition.

By allowing states to waive community rating requirements, the bill would give insurance companies license to discriminate based on medical history by charging people with pre-existing conditions more for their coverage. This would have a profound impact on women, who prior to the ACA were disqualified from coverage for pre-existing conditions including C-sections, breast cancer, pregnancy, and even treatment for domestic violence.

With today’s House passage of the AHCA and the president’s signature on the Executive Order, the wheels have now been set in motion. We will do all we can to stop this dangerous agenda from moving further.

As we wait to see the full effect of the order, the AHCA could move to the Senate for a vote. Let your senators know that you reject this bill and any attack on women’s health care.

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