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Elizabeth Warren

Denying women coverage under any guise is a big step backward

MAYBE YOU saw the pictures. Five middle-age men seated at a congressional hearing table to discuss freedom of religion and contraception. And not a single woman was on the panel. Unbelievable. Do you think Congress would ever have a hearing on prostate cancer and only have women speak? Of course not.

Washington is so out of touch with what’s happening to families across this country that the Senate is about to vote on an amendment that would allow any insurance company or any employer to claim a vague “moral conviction’’ as an excuse to deny you health care coverage. Here’s the really astonishing news: Senator Scott Brown is not only voting for this amendment, he is fighting to get it passed.

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What does this mean? If you are married and your employer doesn’t believe married couples should use birth control, then you could lose coverage for contraception. If you’re a pregnant woman who is single, and your employer doesn’t like it, you could be denied maternity care. This bill is about how to cut coverage for basic health care services for women.

Let’s be clear what this proposed law is not about: This is not about Catholic institutions or the rights of Catholics to follow their faith. President Obama has already made sure religious institutions will not be forced to cover contraception - at the same time that he has made sure women can get the health care they need directly from their health care insurers. Carol Keehan, the president and CEO of Catholic Health Association, said that Obama’s approach “protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions.’’

I support Obama’s solution because I believe we must respect people of all religious faiths, while still ensuring that women have access to contraceptives. Brown has rejected this compromise. Instead, he has cosponsored a bill that will let any employer or any insurance company cut off contraceptive care, maternity care, or whatever they want, and leave women without coverage at all for this basic medical care.

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It is shocking that in 2012, Brown and his Republican colleagues would try to pass a law to threaten women’s access to birth control and other health care. Women all across this Commonwealth should have the right to use birth control if they want to. Giving corporate CEOs and insurance companies the power to dictate what health care women can and cannot get is just wrong. Those decisions should be up to women and their doctors.

Our goal should be to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, high-quality health care. At a time when families are struggling with the costs of health care, we should be trying to strengthen our health care system - not finding ways to create loopholes that threaten the rights of women to obtain the health care they need.

This bill is about how to cut coverage for basic health care services for women.

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Massachusetts has been a leader in every aspect of health care: increasing access, reducing costs, and engaging in the innovations and research that make higher quality care better. We need to keep moving forward - not take a big step backward.

Elizabeth Warren is a Democratic candidate for US Senate from Massachusetts.
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