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Dr. Peggy Drexler Headshot

Why Komen Is Small Potatoes

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The Susan G. Komen skirmish gave us a week of high drama -- the stunning denial of Planned Parenthood funding, the furious backlash, the capitulation and apology, the scramble to assign blame.

It was an eye-opening example of how expediently women's health can be held hostage to conservative ideology. But for American women and their well-being, it was a spit of rain from a passing cloud compared to the massive storm front forming in the chambers of the Supreme Court.

The events at Komen appear elegantly cynical. Blame the defunding on a perfunctory and fruitless Federal investigation into whether Federal money is being used for abortions by passing a rule that there can be no funding for any group under investigation -- knowing that of the 2,000 recipients of Komen funds, Planned Parenthood would be the only organization affected.

The long knives are now out for Karen Handel, Komen's VP of Public Policy, whom a suddenly-available unnamed source, with a fist-full of incriminating e-mails, says was behind the whole thing. The emerging bad apple defense begs a question. If you have nothing but love for, in the words of a Komen statement, "such a long-standing partner as Planned Parenthood,"why put public policy in the hands of a woman who despises their existence?

It was just over a year ago that Handel ran for governor of Georgia on a promise to strip Planned Parenthood of all state funding for breast and cervical cancer screenings. I think I might have raised that in the interview.

The sorry saga has left a hugely beneficial organization as bloodied as the feet of all of those women who proudly wore pink, and walked dozens of miles in its name, many of whom are vowing "never again."

As riveting as all this was, it is playing out against the backdrop of something much larger. The legal attack on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) puts at risk provisions that will right grievous -- even deadly -- wrongs in how women are treated in our health care system.

As the battle rages on such judgment calls as the legalities of mandatory insurance, little attention is being paid to the collateral damage if the legislation -- already weakened by compromise - comes apart in the Court's constitutional interpretations.

Even a partial list of the law's benefits indicates its special importance for women.

No woman would pay higher premiums because of her gender. Companies could no longer discriminate based on pregnancy, caesarean section, domestic violence or breast cancer.

Health plans would be required to offer maternity and newborn care. Low-income women enrolled in Medicaid would gain access to maternal and infant care, as well as early childhood home visitations and other services and education. Mammograms, prenatal, and other preventative tests would be covered with no-co payments or deductibles.

As Speaker Nancy Pelosi summed up when the legislation first passed: "Being a woman will no longer be a pre-existing medical condition."

When the Supreme Court hears the constitutional challenge to the ACA, these important protections and advances for women will be a passenger in the considerations.

There has been considerable conjecture about the outcomes. Judging by the areas the Justices agreed to hear, they could uphold the law, strike down just the controversial coverage mandates, or go beyond that and rule on other parts of the Act, such as denial due to preexisting conditions.

Women are at risk in every possibility.

With Komen, klieg lights shone on an attempt to subvert an organization that has long borne the mark of the beast for the religious right. With the Supreme Court, there will be no such illumination -- just lofty discussions of constitutionality.

Depending on the results of those discussions, women will win big or suffer badly. Like Komen, the debate will have little do with their needs, or the quality of their care.

Unlike Komen, the stakes are universal. The Planned Parenthood flap will come and go in a couple of news cycles, instructive, but ultimately harmless. If the gains for women in the ACA go down with the ship, it may take decades to get them back, if we can get them back at all.