Women's Health Care, comments in United States Senate (2012 February 17)

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Women's Health Care  (2012) 
by Jeanne Shaheen
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Video of speech by Senator Shaheen in United States Senate.
Document in the Congressional Record. February 17, 2012.

Women's Health Care

Senator Jeanne Shaheen

SENATOR Jeanne Shaheen


February 17, 2012


The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator from New Hampshire.

Mrs. SHAHEEN. Mr. President I come to the floor today with a number of my women Senate colleagues to talk about what happened yesterday at the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. They held a hearing on the administration's decision to make sure that women have access to affordable contraception, but guess who was missing. The women. This is a picture of the first panel from yesterday's hearing. Not one woman was seated at this table, not one woman at the table, yet the topic was women's health.

What is more difficult to understand is that when female members of the House committee asked for a woman to testify along with the men, they were denied. Their request was simple: to allow Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown Law School student, to testify on this panel of all men. As a woman she could speak firsthand about how this rule would impact women. But their request was denied because the chairman said Sandra Fluke was unqualified.

How can a woman be unqualified to talk about women's health care? Yet every one of these men on the panel was deemed to be qualified to talk about women's health care. I am disappointed. I know it is a disappointment that is shared by millions of women across this country. I am saddened that here we are, in 2012, and a House committee would hold a hearing on women's health and deny women the ability to share their perspective.

Time and time again, women have been silenced in this discussion, a discussion about our own very personal health care decisions. In fact, a recent analysis of the leading cable news channels showed that almost twice as many men as women were invited to join the conversation.

I think it is critical to understand that the underlying issue here is about affordable access to contraception--something that is basic to women's health. Birth control is something that most women use at some point in their lifetime and something that the medical community believes is essential to the health of women and their families. Research shows that access to birth control is directly linked to declines in maternal and infant mortality, that it can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, and that it is linked to overall good health outcomes.

Some women, 14 percent of them, use birth control not as contraceptives but to treat serious medical conditions. That is about 1.5 million women.

When the administration first announced its decision to require employers to offer health insurance coverage for contraception, there was a robust conversation about religious liberty. In response to that, the President modified his decision last week, preserving the religious liberty of those religiously affiliated institutions, such as hospitals or universities, but also protecting the women who work for them. His decision ensured that all women have access to contraceptive coverage, and if a woman's employer has a religious objection, women can get that critical coverage directly from their health plans.

The Catholic Health Association has supported this policy, and yet, as we saw yesterday, some attempt to continue to politicize this issue. We cannot lose sight that this is at the most fundamental level of debate about women's preventive health.

Women deserve a voice in this debate because, after all, in the end this is about our health and it is about a health care decision that is between women, their families, their doctors, and their own faith.

I yield the floor.

Senator Patty Murray[edit]

SENATOR Patty Murray


The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator from Washington.

Mrs. MURRAY. Mr. President, I thank my colleague from New Hampshire.

For millions of American women, reading the news this morning was like stepping into a time machine and going back 50 years, seeing the headlines and the photos of this all-male panel in the House talking about a woman's right to access birth control, and no women on the panel. It turns out the chairman of the House oversight committee decided he was not going to allow a young woman who had been asked by the minority to testify and tell her story--actually of a friend who had lost an ovary because of her lack of contraception coverage. So this 19-year-old woman was left to watch, like the rest of us, as all five men addressed the committee about how they supported efforts to restrict access to care.

I am sure by now many of my colleagues here have seen this picture of this all-male panel, the picture that says a thousand words. It is one that most women thought was left behind when pictures only came in black and white.

But this was not the only story this morning that made women feel as if the clock had been turned back on them. The other story comes to us from the Republican Presidential nomination trail. It seems that yesterday, on national television, one of the chief financial backers for Rick Santorum, the Republican candidate who is now surging toward the nomination, suggested that contraception was once as simple as a woman putting aspirin between her knees. Really? Shocking. Appalling. An insult. In fact, both of these stories are enough to make any woman, regardless of her own politics, angry. It certainly does me.

These are things that are happening today and they are enough to make you believe that after years of progress, nothing has changed. For many women and men who are waking up to the news this morning, it may seem this is a swift and sudden attack on women's health care, but I am here on the floor of the Senate today to tell you all there is nothing sudden about it. There is nothing new about these Republican attacks on our family planning decisions. In fact, from the moment they came into power, Republicans in the House of Representatives have been waging a war on women's health. If you do not believe me, look at the first bills they introduced after they arrived here in Washington, DC, and were sworn into office. After campaigning across the country on a platform of jobs and the economy, the first three bills they introduced were direct attacks on women's health in America.

The very first bill, H.R. 1, would have totally eliminated title X funding for family planning and teen pregnancy prevention. It included an amendment that would have completely defunded Planned Parenthood and cut off support for millions of women who count on it.

Another one of their opening round of bills, more than a year ago, would have permanently codified the Hyde amendment and the DC abortion ban, and the original version of their bill did not even include an exception for the health of the mother.

Finally, they introduced a bill right away that would have rolled back every single one of the gains we worked so hard to get for women in the health care reform bill. It would have removed the caps on out- of-pocket expenses that protect women from losing their homes and their life savings if they get sick. It ended the ban on lifetime limits on coverage. It allowed insurance companies to once again discriminate against women by charging them higher premiums or even denying women access for so-called preexisting conditions--that, by the way, includes pregnancy.

It would have rolled back the guarantee that insurance companies cover contraceptive activities, which will save the overwhelming majority of women who use them hundreds of dollars a year.

In addition to showing their true colors with their very first legislative efforts, Republicans have shown they will go to about any limit to restrict our access to care, even shutting down the Federal Government. It seems extreme? That is exactly what happened last April, when Republicans nearly shuttered the Federal Government over a rider that was another attempt to go after title X and Planned Parenthood.

I remember, I was in those meetings, months and months of negotiations on the numbers in our budget. I was astonished that Republicans, late at night, were willing to throw all that work away to go after women's health. I was the only woman in the room that night. I can remember being personally disgusted that Republicans thought they could get away with making women victims, under the cover of darkness, in the middle of the night, with moments to go before the government was shut down.

But I also remember the resounding ``no when they tried to pull that, first from me, then from my women colleagues joining me today, and then a loud and overwhelming chorus of men and women all across the country. That chorus of women was heard again a few weeks ago after yet another attack on women's health care. This time the attack came cloaked in a sham investigation led by some of the same congressional Republicans who yesterday had this all-male panel talking about women's contraception. It was an investigation of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer charity sites to cut off funding for lifesaving breast cancer screenings for women. We know what happened after the outcry followed that decision. I certainly remember going home and standing shoulder to shoulder with women and men in my home State in front of a clinic that provided those breast screening referrals and pledging to safeguard against any future attacks in the wake of that decision, but I didn't think it would come the very next week. Apparently, Republicans are still not done. Even after the loud rebuke after the Komen decision, they have decided again to pick on women's health.

Just last week, the junior Senator from Missouri introduced an amendment to a job-creating transportation infrastructure bill that is as extreme as anything we have seen. It is an amendment that will allow any employer--a barber, a banker, a multinational corporation--to be given an exemption to not cover contraception or any essential preventive for any religious or moral reason. It is an amendment that would give any employer an unprecedented license to dictate what women can and cannot have covered. It puts your employer smack in the middle between you and your health care. It is politics between women and their health care, and before the news that women across the country awoke to this morning, it was just the most recent in a very long line of attacks on our reproductive rights.

Contraceptive coverage should not be a controversial issue. It is supported by the vast majority of Americans who understand how important it is for women and their families, but let me remind everyone Republicans have made it clear from the start this is not about what is best for women or men or their family-planning decisions, it is apparently a political calculation. This is about their constituency. It is about their continued push to do whatever it takes to push their extreme agenda.

The women of the Senate, the Democratic women, are here to say enough. We are standing today and every day to fight for women and their right to make their own basic health care decisions, not their employer, not an extreme part of the Republican Party, not some men on a panel but themselves. We will continue to do so, and I am proud to stand with the women of the Senate to do just that.

I yield the floor.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand[edit]

SENATOR Kirsten Gillibrand


Mrs. GILLIBRAND. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that I may consume 3 minutes and my colleague from California may also consume 3 minutes before we move on to the next matter.

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mrs. GILLIBRAND. Mr. President, I have said it time and time again all across New York State at event after event: We need more women's voices in our decisionmaking process. We need more women at the table in government and in business. When women are at the table, they bring a very different perspective to the same problems, a different set of solutions, a different approach. At the end of the day, the outcomes are better when women's voices are heard.

But just when I thought I couldn't be any more dumbfounded by the debate around here in terms of denying access to women's health services, there was a hearing yesterday in the House of Representatives on the topic of contraception and all the witnesses were male. My colleague, Carolyn Maloney, had it quite right when she walked out on that farce.

Let me be clear, once again: 99 percent of all America's women have used contraception at some time in their lifetime. When will they get this simple, nondebatable fact that the power to decide whether a woman will use contraception lies with her, not her boss, not her employer. What is more intrusive than trying to allow an employer to make medical decisions for someone who works for them? This has nothing to do with religious freedom, and you don't have to take it from me. Take it from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In the majority decision of the 1990 case on Employment Division v. Smith, Scalia wrote:

"We have never held that an individual's religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate."

It is time to end this ridiculous, ideological fight once and for all and get back to the real business at hand of growing our economy and getting Americans back to work.

But if our Republican colleagues want to continue to take this issue head on, we will stand here as often as is necessary and draw a line in the sand that the women of the Senate will continue to oppose these attacks on women's rights and women's health care.

I yield the floor for my colleague from California.

Senator Barbara Boxer[edit]

SENATOR Barbara Boxer


The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator from California.

Mrs. BOXER. Mr. President, I wish to associate myself with the remarks of my fellow colleagues this morning. They are eloquent. When I looked at this scene that Senator Murray and Senator Shaheen had up here and looked at this picture of this panel that is supposed to be speaking about women's health--in particular, birth control--obviously I was stunned. It brought back a memory from 20 years ago when all of America looked at the Senate and saw there was not one woman on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and they realized that year, in 1991, that there were only two women in the entire Senate. It sent shockwaves through the country. Whether one agreed with Anita Hill or Clarence Thomas, that was not the point. We had very strong feelings about that on both sides.

The point of this is that on an issue so critical to this Nation, the next Supreme Court Justice, there was not one woman on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and we had the ``Year of the Woman, and we tripled the number of women in the Senate. It wasn't much, 2 to 6, but it was a start, and now we are at 17, and we are going higher because yesterday this is what America saw, a Republican House of Representatives that is so hostile to women's health that they didn't even think about having a person on there who was a female, nor did they have anyone on there that agreed it is important that women have access to birth control knowing that for many women birth control is medicine, knowing that 99 percent of women, sometime in her lifetime, utilized birth control.

So this picture is worth a thousand words. I have a 16-year-old grandson. I came home, I had this picture in my hand. I went up to him--he's not particularly political--and I said: Zach, what do you notice about this? He said: ``It's all dudes. This does not take a degree in political science to see what is going on here. When we come back, we are going to be on the highway bill. There will be some bumps in the road along the way, but at one point we will probably have an amendment to vote on called the Blunt amendment. As we get to that later, I will talk about it.

But Senator Blunt, a Republican Senator from Missouri, has put forward an amendment that would allow any single employer--regardless of how large or small their operation--to deny essential health care to their employees and preventive health care if they simply say it is a matter of conscience. It is right there. Senator Blunt says: Oh, no. I heard Senator Brown defending Senator Blunt saying: No, no. Oh, yes. Just read it and look at the list of lifesaving and health-saving services that would be denied.

So women of America and the men who care about you, get ready because there is an assault on women, and stand with us.

Thank you very much.

I would yield the floor.

Senator Chuck Schumer[edit]

SENATOR Chuck Schumer


The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator from New York.

Mr. SCHUMER. Mr. President, I wish to thank my colleagues from California, New York, New Hampshire, and Washington State for the great job they have done. Before I speak about our judicial nominee, I wish to say I join them in their remarks and their feelings. This is about women's health, and women and men all over America are scratching their heads and saying: Are we fighting against contraception? Are we turning the clock back 60 or 70 years? It makes no sense.

If a woman wants contraception for either birth control or other health purposes--and most women use it for other health purposes--it is up to that woman, not her employer. That is the bottom line. The vast majority of Americans, men and women, agree with that statement. That is true of every major religion from the polling data I have seen.

Frankly, I don't understand this Republican Party. First, they made war on the Hispanic community, one of the fastest growing segments in America on immigration, and now they are making a war on the majority of America, women. While not every woman feels the way we do, the vast majority of women do. So I don't get it.

Then to take an amendment such as that from my friend from Missouri and expand it even further and say, if someone owns a McDonald's, they can decide to not provide contraceptive services--the real reason might be because they don't want to pay extra or other reasons that are not religiously based--I don't get it.

I hope we do have a vote on the Blunt amendment because I think the American people would not be for that amendment on an overwhelming basis. The more they learn about it, the more that happens, and that is why the tide is moving in that direction.

I wish to thank my colleagues for allowing me to say a few words on that issue.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).