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The Supreme Court ruled this morning that the individual mandate to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act could be upheld under a taxing clause. The stunning — and quite legally complicated — decision could lead to broad health care coverage for previously uninsured Americans. It’s also a huge win for women.
Under the Affordable Care Act, everyone in the U.S. will be required to purchase insurance for themselves by 2014. If they don’t, they have to pay a penalty (this is known as the individual mandate). And anyone living below the poverty line up to those making several times the poverty level will receive federal subsidies to make this happen. Without the individual mandate being upheld, insurance providers would have had loopholes to deny access to individuals with preexisting conditions, a critical piece of the ACA.
For those who are struggling to pay health care costs, this legislation is a huge deal — there are implications for everyone here, obviously. But women, perhaps, will be affected more than most. And it’s impossible to talk about the SCOTUS ruling today without reflecting how, in the weeks leading up to this decision, our place in the “Obamacare” debate has dominated the conversation — in alarming ways.
In debates tinged with misogyny and sexism, questions over whether women have the right to birth control subsidies often devolved into arguments over morality itself. Rush Limbaugh called Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke a slut after she testified in support of subsidized birth control. When discussing birth control access, a key Republican donor wondered aloud on national television why women couldn’t just keep their legs closed. Beyond the legislation itself, the debate over women and birth control emerged as one of the ugliest political chapters for us in recent memory. And it revealed that many of the anti-women sentiments we sensed boiling under the surface were still, in fact, real.
For women, the Affordable Care Act’s biggest boon is in preventive care (which, according to early reports from CNN, will be provided for among all the provisions in the ACA). If the provisions are, in fact, all accounted for, starting August 1, the ACA will make birth control free to all women who have insurance. That is of course unless you’re employed by a religious organization, in which case, sorry. You are, you may be (if you’ll pardon the pun) screwed.
Yes, birth control dominated much of the debate over ACA, as a disturbingly large portion of the country rallied around the notion that non-procreative sex is icky and/or something only rich women should be allowed to enjoy. But there are other crucial preventive programs directly affecting women covered by the legislation. Under the Obama plan, health care insurers are required to shell out for mammograms, which I think we can all agree, for the most part, are good things. The plan also covers colonoscopies, which are good for us too.
In short, SCOTUS’ decision on the Affordable Care Act today is good for women. Yes, it’s likely that many states will challenge this legislation in the coming months. But the ruling itself is a win for women — one for which we were desperately overdue.
UPDATE: A statement from Planned Parenthood calls the upholding of the ACA “the greatest advance in women’s health in a generation,” and confirms that under the legislation insurance holders will have “access to birth control and cancer screenings without co-pays [and] guaranteed direct access to ob/gyn providers without referrals.”
Published with the permission of The Jane Dough.