The war on women’s health

Last week, House Republicans launched their latest assault on what I have been calling a War on Women. The so-called “Protect Life Act,” which passed the House, would harm the lives of women in this country, particularly low-income women and women of color who have become central targets of this shameful agenda. 

H.R. 358 would radically undo settled law on abortion on multiple fronts. First, much to my dismay, the federal funding of abortion already is prohibited under the Hyde Amendment. Furthermore, the Affordable Care Act prohibits the use of U.S. taxpayer dollars to fund abortions. For House Republicans, this is not enough. For the first time, this bill places unprecedented restrictions on how a woman with private insurance can spend her own private dollars in purchasing health insurance. 

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This offensive assault on women’s health would force coverage to be dropped from the state exchanges, cutting off millions of women from affordable, comprehensive healthcare. In fact, this would make it virtually impossible for any healthcare plan to offer abortion coverage. Unbelievably, it even allows medical professionals to refuse care to any woman who might need an abortion to protect her own life. 

While H.R. 358 has no chance of becoming law, it is part of a coordinated, nationwide plot to strip women of basic, constitutionally guaranteed rights, and undermine critical services provided by healthcare reform. This past summer, Republican appropriators rejected my amendment that would allow the District of Columbia to spend its own — not federal — tax dollars on abortion services for poor, disenfranchised women.

All this comes as no surprise to those of us who have been fighting against extreme anti-woman ideology for many years. In September, the Republican leadership released its draft Fiscal Year 2012 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education spending bill, marking the continuation of a slow march toward eliminating all preventive services for women. 

The spending bill includes a total decimation of Title X Family Planning programs, considered by many in the medical community as one of the most important public health initiatives in our nation. Title X Family Planning programs are estimated to prevent nearly 1 million unintended pregnancies each year, almost half of which would otherwise end in, ironically, abortion. 

Study after study has shown that eliminating funding for family planning programs would result in millions of women losing access to basic primary and preventive healthcare, including lifesaving cancer screenings, birth control, annual exams and STD testing. This is why last week I spearheaded a letter, signed by 69 members of Congress, urging the protection of women’s health during supercommittee negotiations. 

If Republicans get their way, not only would access to family planning services be eliminated, they would cut evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention initiatives and redirect funds into failed “abstinence-only” programs. It is no surprise the United States still has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the industrialized world! 

Rather than sidelining women, we must give young women and girls the right tools to be safe and healthy and prevent unintended pregnancies in the first place. This is why next month I will introduce legislation to expand comprehensive sex education at elementary and secondary schools and universities to ensure federal funds are spent on effective, age-appropriate, medically accurate programs.

Rather than undermining President Obama’s healthcare reform initiatives, we must protect and continue to expand primary prevention and effective health programming until every individual has a fair opportunity to attain optimal health, and every woman has greater control of her own destiny. 

It is shameful that some are threatened by our hard-fought gains. And it is disgraceful that they are actively working to turn the clock back on women, on choice and on our access to healthcare. We must reject this dangerous agenda, and fight to stop this war on women.

Lee is a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies.