A winner for all, especially women

It’s not much of a stretch for us to say the Affordable Care Act is one of the most significant pieces of legislation for women in our lifetimes. Not because of the battles we fought to get it to the president’s desk or because of the size or scope of the law. But because of the tangible and positive impact it has had, and will continue to have, on the health and well-being of American women and their families.

Last month, the law celebrated its fourth anniversary, serving as a stark reminder of where our nation’s health-care system was four short years ago — insurance companies had all the leverage, and, too often, women paid the price.

Thanks to the ACA, for the first time, women, not their insurance companies, are fully in charge of their health care. This is why we feel strongly that we can’t go back to the way things were.

Unfortunately, there are efforts under way all across the country to severely undermine a woman’s access to some of the critical and lifesaving services provided by the ACA. And no provision of this law has faced quite as many attacks as the idea of providing affordable, quality reproductive health services to the women of America.

We’ve seen attempt after attempt to eliminate access to abortion services and low-cost birth control designed to restrict a woman’s ability to make personal decisions about her own care. This means that now more than ever it is our job to protect these kinds of decisions for women, to fight for women’s health, and ensure that women’s health does not become a political football.

For this reason, we were proud to lead members of our caucus in filing an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in two cases brought by CEOs who want to take away their employees’ right to insurance coverage for birth control, which is guaranteed under the ACA.

Allowing a woman’s boss to call the shots about her access to birth control should be inconceivable to all Americans in this day and age, and takes us back to a place in history when women had no voice or choice. We have been able to directly link comprehensive preventive care, including birth control, to declines in maternal and infant mortality, reduced risk of ovarian cancer, better overall health outcomes, and far fewer unintended pregnancies and abortions — which is a goal we all should share.

In fact, contraception was included as a required preventive service in the ACA on the recommendation of the independent, nonprofit Institute of Medicine and other medical experts, because it is essential to the health of women and families.

What’s at stake in this case before the Supreme Court is whether a CEO’s personal beliefs can trump a woman’s right to access free or low-cost contraception under the ACA. We strongly believe that every American deserves to have access to high quality health-care coverage regardless of where they work.

If these bosses are allowed to evade this law, what would happen to other legal protections for employees? Could an employer decide not to cover HIV treatment? Could an employer opt out of having to comply with anti-discrimination laws? Corporations must not be able to use religion as a license to discriminate.

We are proud to be joined in filing the brief by 17 other senators who were in office when Congress enacted the religious protections through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993 and when we made access to women’s health care available through the ACA in 2010. We know that Congress did not intend for a corporation, or its shareholders, to restrict a women’s access to preventive health care.

Improving access to birth control is good health and economic policy. While many of our colleagues believe repealing the ACA and access to reproductive health services is a political winner for them, the truth is that the law is a winner for women, men, children, and our health-care system. We can’t turn back the clock on the critical services this law provides. Politics should not matter when it comes to making sure Americans get the care they need at a cost they can afford.

Democratic senators Patty Murray of Washington and Barbara Boxer of California wrote this for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

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