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In shutdown, an attack on women's health

By Cecile Richards, Special to CNN
October 1, 2013 -- Updated 1402 GMT (2202 HKT)
Sen. Barbara Boxer explains how the shutdown bill would allow companies to deny women coverage provided in the ACA.
Sen. Barbara Boxer explains how the shutdown bill would allow companies to deny women coverage provided in the ACA.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cecile Richards: House took its 43rd vote trying to kill the Affordable Care Act
  • Included provision to let employers and insurers refuse women's health coverage
  • Richards: Women could lose coverage for birth control, HPV testing, other services
  • She says Congress should stop pushing an extreme, unpopular agenda and fix economy

Editor's note: Cecile Richards is president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

(CNN) -- Instead of keeping the government running and focusing on the economy and other pressing issues facing the country, the House leadership has decided to play politics with women's health and economic stability.

In its 43rd vote to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, the House has shut down the government to delay the law's implementation until 2015. It is a desperate attack that could leave millions of people without health coverage.

But a small group of far-right members of the House pushed through a provision that goes even further, passing an amendment that would allow employers and insurance companies to refuse to cover women's preventive health care because they have a personal "moral" objection.

Cecile Richards
Cecile Richards

This would include birth control, HPV testing, breast-feeding services and counseling for domestic violence. Any employer or insurance company could refuse to cover them, and women would have no recourse. It's a clause that could easily be abused by employers and insurers. And the amendment only covers the women's preventive benefit -- employers would not be able to refuse to cover preventive care specific to men for "moral" reasons. But

This is from the same House Republican leaders who tried to shut the government down in 2011 over funding for Planned Parenthood's cancer screenings, birth control and other preventive health care services and have tried dozens of times since then to block women from making their own personal medical decisions.

Shutdown: Day 1
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What Obamacare means for you

This unprecedented and ongoing attack on women's health is out of touch with the needs of millions of women and is deeply unpopular with the American public.

Seven in 10 Americans believe that health insurance companies should cover the full cost of birth control, just as they do for other preventive services. These policies are working.

Already, 27 million women across the country have been able to receive preventive health care without a co-pay, and an estimated 47 million will benefit when the law takes full effect.

These investments in women's health services are not only providing women with more control over their health and their own family planning, but they are also a great deal for taxpayers. According to research released by the Guttmacher Institute this summer, for every $1 we invest in birth control services, we save nearly $6 in the long term.

It's a smart policy for the health of women and for our nation's economy. This is why earlier this year, Planned Parenthood members and our allies submitted more than 350,000 comments to the Department of Health and Human Services in support of the benefit. These comments came from women and men in all 50 states, and we continue to hear from women every day who are already benefiting from birth control with no co-payss.

We hear from women such as Ariel of Ridgewood, New Jersey, a 23-year-old who wrote to us to say that she just married "the love of my life" and plans to have children one day -- when she and her new husband are ready. They both have "piles of student loans" to pay first, and she can barely afford birth control if it weren't covered. Ariel and others like her will suffer if this narrow group of GOP members of Congress succeed in their crusade to keep women from having access to birth control and other preventive care.

Although it's not the first time they've tried, it's alarming how far some members of the GOP will go to attack the women's preventive benefit and the ACA itself.

As the leading women's health care provider and advocate, Planned Parenthood has fought hard to protect this benefit from the beginning because we know that birth control is basic, preventive health care for women, and it is a key economic issue for women and their families.

The country wants Congress to focus on jobs and the economy, not on pushing an extreme agenda against women's access to health care.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Cecile Richards.

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