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Health Care and the Healing of America

On Wednesday, the House will bring up a vote to repeal the health care law that is already expanding health care coverage for the women of our country.
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In the wake of the tragic shooting last week in Arizona, President Obama called on all Americans to speak to one another "in a way that heals, not a way that wounds." These words echo the physicians' credo -- "first do no harm." I welcome the president's call for healing and for softening the harsh tone of our politics. We have a great need for this in America today.

Unfortunately, even with the president's hopeful words still ringing in our ears, the House leadership is moving forward with an agenda that will harm American women. On Wednesday, they will bring up a vote to repeal the health care law that is already expanding health care coverage for the women of our country.

The politicians who took over the House of Representatives rode to power on a wave of discontent over joblessness and financial worries. But rather than focusing on the economy, they have made it their first order of business to take health care away from our mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends. And, sadly, the vote to repeal health care is just the beginning.

These leaders are about to make life much less humane for millions of Americans -- especially the women of this country. Yes, we want a new civil tone, but we also want policies that respect women and deliver the health care they and their families need and deserve.

Keep in mind that the new health care law represents the greatest single advance for women's health in 45 years. It promises to make health insurance available to millions of women, and it includes measures to make primary health care -- including annual exams, prevention, and reproductive care -- much more affordable. Most importantly, it will deliver peace of mind to women whose health needs are great but whose resources are few.

The new law will also deliver peace of mind to women who have been sick before. It will end discriminatory practices such as routinely charging women higher premiums than men, and denying coverage for so-called "pre-existing" conditions such as breast cancer and, yes, pregnancy.

Health care reform also holds the promise of giving women access to prescription birth control without co-pays or other out-of-pocket payments. Making this policy a reality would enable women to choose the method of contraception that works best for them, keep women and children healthy, and reduce the number of unintended pregnancies.

Many American women have already begun to benefit from the initial implementation of health care reform. And countless more stand to benefit in the years to come. Repealing this law will hurt women and families and make daily life less certain for them. In other words, it will do harm.

But repealing the new health care law is only the first step for the new leaders of the House. Soon after the repeal vote, they plan to move forward with the Smith bill, which could effectively eliminate private health insurance that includes abortion coverage, a benefit most women with private health insurance have now. Thirty-eight years after Roe, this would chip away at the ability of women to make the most private and personal medical decisions. As if that were not enough, conservative members of Congress, led by Representative Mike Pence, are working to strip critical family planning funding from community providers including Planned Parenthood. And they are threatening cuts to vital maternal and child health programs, as well as programs supporting health care in our farming and rural communities. Taken together, all of these changes will take away the full range of services from women -- from birth control to coverage for abortion.

Talk of civility and a new tone is welcome and deserves nothing but praise. But when the health and peace of mind of our mothers, daughters and sisters come up for a vote, let's remember that actions speak louder than words.

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