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Celebrating Women's Health and the Affordable Care Act

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As we ride out another month of attacks on women's health care, let's take a moment to mark an important milestone. It was two years ago this week that President Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a significant step in fixing the country's broken health system.

ACA started a revolution that is decades overdue and represents one of the greatest advances for women's access to health care in a generation. It ensures that all new insurance plans cover preventive care for women -- including birth control, annual well woman exams, breast and cervical cancer screenings and immunizations -- without expensive co-pays or deductibles. It stops the discriminatory practice of charging women more than men for health insurance and ends practices such as denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions and dropping individuals after they become sick. It expands coverage for young adults by allowing them to stay on their parents' health plan until age 26. And by 2014, it will extend affordable health coverage to tens of millions of women and families who now lack it.

As the trusted health care provider to one in five women, Planned Parenthood hears from patients every day about the urgent need to improve access to affordable, preventive health care, especially from those who need it the most.

That's why Planned Parenthood supports ACA, and its multitude of health benefits to help women, men and families lead healthier lives. And that's why President Obama should be applauded for championing ACA.

Unfortunately, Mitt Romney, the leading Republican presidential candidate, is desperate to woo his party's most extreme elements, and pledges that he would "get rid of" ACA's health benefits if elected president. This is on top of his campaign promise to "get rid of" Planned Parenthood.

In other words, Mitt Romney wants to take a major step backwards on women's health, undermine access to preventive health care such as cancer screenings and birth control, take away protections against medical discrimination and allow insurance companies to charge women more for health care.

Mitt Romney's leading opponents in the Republican presidential primary, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, are just as retrograde in playing politics with women's health.

Take birth control. It's basic, preventive health care that virtually all women use at some point in their lives. That's why the highly respected, nonpartisan Institute of Medicine recommended that birth control be included among the preventive services that are covered with no additional co-pays.

For millions of women of all faiths and economic backgrounds, that provision alone could be a passport to healthier families, improved health outcomes and higher earnings.

Yet Mitt Romney not only wants to take away that benefit, he wants to go even further, and allow CEOs or health plans to refuse to cover any health care service they object to. That proposal is known as the Blunt Amendment, and it's so dangerous that a wide range of health care groups, including the American Cancer Society, the March of Dimes, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Spina Bifida Association, oppose it.

As Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich seem determined to learn the hard way, Americans aren't looking for a president to revoke women's rights and take away their health care. They're looking for a leader who wants to expand access to affordable care.

But in the Republican presidential candidates' vision of health care, they want to let CEOs and politicians decide which medical services a woman can receive from her doctor.

It's a far cry from what most Americans want. In a recent national poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 63 percent of respondents, including 60 percent of Catholics and 62 percent of political Independents, said they supported full coverage of birth control under health care reform.

So let's celebrate that women under the Affordable Care Act will at long last get equal access to health care. But let's also recommit ourselves to protecting women's health and protecting the new law.

Cecile Richards is president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.