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Can GOP undo women's health protections?

House Republicans' insertion of a "conscience clause" to allow employers to refuse contraceptive coverage for women--part of a laundry list of demands, includi
Planned Parenthood worker speaks with a woman during a Planned Parenthood Affordable Care Act outreach event
Planned Parenthood worker Alicia Gonzales speaks with a woman during an Affordable Care Act outreach event hosted by Planned Parenthood for the Latino...

House Republicans' insertion of a "conscience clause" to allow employers to refuse contraceptive coverage for women--part of a laundry list of demands, including the repeal of the entire Affordable Care Act, that has led to the current government shutdown--has angered women's health advocates and given Senate Democrats one more example to cite in declaring a GOP War on Women. But lost in the shuffle is the fact that this would potentially involve taking away no-copay contraceptive coverage from women who are already getting it. It would also take the notorious precept that "corporations are people" to the next level.

"The incredible thing is that millions of women are already benefiting," Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said on the Ed Show Tuesday afternoon. She added, "This is actually one of the most popular parts of the Affordable Care Act."

The women's preventative services guidelines required plans created after March 23, 2010 to cover all FDA-approved contraception without a co-pay, beginning on or after August 1, 2012.  That means millions of women with insurance have been already benefiting from that provision of Obamacare, and as of October 1, any of the 12 million uninsured adult women of reproductive age can join their ranks if they purchase insurance on a state exchange.

As Republicans seem to have realized with the timing of their current repeal push, it's harder to take a benefit away from people once they have it. But social conservatives seem convinced that the "religious liberty" of employers to deny their employees coverage will carry the day, whether in the continuing resolution or in ongoing court battles that seek to give for-profit corporations the religious freedom rights of individuals. Advocates worry that this will set a precedent beyond birth control, as the door would be open for employers to reject any benefit or regulation on the basis of alleged religious belief.

To the great irritation of social conservatives, who vilify the organization for providing abortions at many of its affiliates, Planned Parenthood has taken the lead in promoting the Affordable Care Act. It launched to allow people to search for plans that include Planned Parenthood, as well as Obamacare Works, a site dedicated to first-person stories extolling the law. The organization also released a video this week explaining the law.

Planned Parenthood affiliates in Washington D.C., Iowa, New Hampshire and Montana have also been given grants totaling under $1 million to serve as "navigators." Despite the fact that no federal funding can go to abortions--a status quo unchanged by the Affordable Care Act despite all the right-wing talking points in the world--Tennessee Republican Rep. Diane Black condemned the move in August. “Obamacare will in fact give taxpayer money to abortion providers,” Black said. “The federal funding of abortion providers like Planned Parenthood is a serious problem in our country, and one that I have been fighting since I arrived in Congress.” (Planned Parenthood receives federal funding under Title X to provide contraceptive access and counseling, as well as screening for breast cancer and sexually transmitted diseases.)

The National Right To Life Committee condemned Planned Parenthood's non-abortion-related involvement. "By choosing these Planned Parenthood affiliates to be Navigators in the federally facilitated Exchanges, these Planned Parenthood affiliates will now have the seal of approval of the federal government as an entity that consumers can contact for help in applying for coverage," wrote Susan T. Muskett, the group's Senior Legislative Counsel. "This is all just one more reason why ObamaCare needs to be repealed."