Tuesday, March 5, 2013

House Republicans Propose Rolling Back Access To Birth Control To Avert Government Shutdown

In order to avert a government shutdown later this month, Congress and the Obama administration must negotiate a continuing resolution to maintain federal funding — and a group of House Republicans is suggesting that deal should also roll back Obamacare’s effort to expand women’s access to affordable contraception.

The automatic spending cuts that will take effect under sequestration will already compromise programs that disproportionately impact women, including slashing $86 million from critical family planning and reproductive health services. But that’s not enough for Republican lawmakers, who want to use the upcoming budget negotiations as yet another opportunity to keep attacking women’s health:

GOP lawmakers reintroduced a bill Tuesday to repeal the contraception mandate. They also pressed their party’s leaders to roll back the provision as part of a continuing resolution later this month to keep the federal government operating.

“This attack on religious freedom demands immediate congressional action,” the 14 lawmakers wrote. “Nothing short of a full exemption for both nonprofit and for-profit entities will satisfy the demands of the Constitution and common sense.”

The continuing resolution that House appropriators released Monday would not cut off funding for the Affordable Care Act, despite years of conservative pressure to defund the healthcare law. But Tuesday’s letter, led by Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), indicates that fights over the health law could still roil the funding debate.

Obamacare’s birth control provision, which went into effect on August 1, helped eliminate the gender-based disparity in health costs by eliminating co-pays for women’s contraceptive services. Studies have proven that increasing access to cost-free birth control lowers the rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion, as well as provides women with greater economic autonomy to achieve their personal financial goals. Nevertheless, right-wing Obamacare opponents misconstrue the law as a threat to religious freedom, despite the fact that it already contains an exemption for faith-based organizations that oppose covering contraception.

Despite Republicans’ insistence that Obamacare is an affront to religious liberty, most Americans don’t agree. A diverse coalition in support of the health reform law’s expanded access to contraception — including religious groups like Catholics for Choice, Jewish Women International, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, the United Methodist Church, and the Unitarian Universalist Association — is already urging the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations to reject a deal that would restrict women’s access to birth control.

Unfortunately, Rep. Black is no stranger to targeting women’s health. So far this session, she has also introduced a measure to defund Planned Parenthood, as well as called for an unnecessary government study to justify her continued effort to strip funding from the women’s health organization.

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