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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand Moves to Safeguard Health-Care Law’s Protections for Women

Ally Boguhn

A Democratic senator says the fight to preserve some of the ACA's most important women's health provisions may become "hand-to-hand combat."

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced Tuesday that she will introduce a measure to safeguard key women’s health protections implemented through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Resolution.

The measure “would make it so that anyone in Congress trying to destroy the Affordable Care Act would not be allowed to touch women’s health-care services,” the New York senator told reporters during a Tuesday press call. “It would ensure that the women’s health protections in the Affordable Care Act are safe and that they will continue to be safe going forward.”

Republicans have embarked on efforts to repeal the ACA through the budget reconciliation process. They have yet to introduce a plan to replace the health-care law, despite a growing list of party members applying pressure for a replacement to be put forward before the law is repealed.

“We’re now just over a week into the new Congress, and Republicans have already made it clear that one of their most urgent priorities in the new year is destroying women’s access to health care,” said Gillibrand. “I’m disturbed by how little empathy there seems to be in Congress for the health and safety of millions of American women.”

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Gillibrand pointed to provisions in the health-care law that should be protected: those that ensure women cannot be charged more for insurance, that pregnancy cannot be considered a pre-existing condition, and that guarantee maternity care coverage, among others. She also highlighted the ACA’s birth control benefit, which ensures that contraceptives and contraceptive counseling are covered, without co-pays, as a preventive service.

“But despite all of this progress, my Republican colleagues have already begun procedural moves that would direct committees in Congress to destroy the Affordable Care Act and take away access to this life-saving medical care for millions of women and their families,” Gillibrand said.

“Every day, my colleagues are getting one step closer to once again making it impossible for millions of American women to see a doctor without bankrupting themselves, or to access the medicine and reproductive health-care services they need to live healthy, productive lives,” she continued.

“Let’s be very clear,” said Gillibrand. “The election in November wasn’t about women’s health care. No one came to Congress with a mandate to take away women’s access to basic health care. And if we suddenly take away all these services, millions of women and families will be much worse off. So we have to stand against this.“

Even if congressional Republicans are unsuccessful in their bid to repeal the ACA, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), anti-choice Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), has previously signaled his opposition to the birth control benefit. He could issue a new directive that says contraceptives are no longer a preventive service.

When asked by Rewire if additional efforts to ensure an incoming HHS secretary could not change what constitutes a preventive service were under way, Gillibrand replied that moving to “block the Secretary of HHS from undermining basic rights as Congress proceeds forward,” if her amendment failed, would be a “matter of hand-to-hand combat.”

She added that “we’ll have to fight hard against it.”

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