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Protecting a Woman's Right to Choose

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The health care bill passed in the House of Representatives on Saturday night makes many improvements to benefit women. It bans gender rating for premiums, prevents breast cancer survivors and domestic abuse victims from being denied coverage, and expands access to preventive care like cancer screenings.

Unfortunately, as a result of the inclusion of the Stupak-Pitts amendment, it continues gender discrimination by providing the largest expansion of anti-choice language since the Hyde Amendment.

Our message is clear: we will not support any final bill that restricts women's access to reproductive health services beyond current law. Before any bill reaches the President's desk, language that takes us back to the last century by undermining women's rights must be eliminated.

Like it or not -- and we don't -- the Hyde amendment prohibits federal dollars from being used to fund abortions except in the case of rape, incest or life-endangering threats to the woman. This denial of federal funding for a legal medical procedure has been contained in annual appropriations bills for many years. And it was included in the health bill before Representatives Stupak and Pitts offered their amendment.

The Capps amendment -- passed in the House Energy and Commerce Committee -- makes clear that not one federal dollar would be spent on abortions. It ensures that federal law will be maintained.

The Stupak-Pitts amendment goes much further. It says that the public option cannot offer abortion coverage to any of its enrollees -- even to those who pay 100% of premiums with their own dollars.

It says that no federal dollars can go to any health plan that includes coverage of abortion beyond the very narrow Hyde amendment exemptions - again, even for those who pay 100% of the premiums with their own dollars.

The Stupak-Pitts amendment tells women that if they want access to abortion - a legal medical procedure -- they need to buy a separate policy, a "rider."

This is offensive to women -- the notion is an insult, it is unworkable and it is discriminatory. Why should a woman purchase separate insurance in advance because she might have an unplanned pregnancy or a pregnancy that goes terribly wrong -- who anticipates that? Would we expect someone to purchase supplemental coverage because they might get cancer or get hit by a bus?

The Stupak-Pitts amendment is not the status quo -- it is a step backward for women who want to move forward.

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Vice Chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, is also the co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Co-Chair Congressional Women's Caucus; Chair Democratic Women's Working Group; Chair Progressive Caucus Health Care Task Force.

This oped is cross-posted with Politico Ideas, where it first appeared.

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