SHAHEEN: ALL WOMEN DESERVE ACCESS TO CRITICAL HEALTH SERVICES

February 07, 2012

Senator Shaheen spoke on the Senate floor today to emphasize the importance of providing women with access to critical health services. Shaheen's remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:


Mr. President, almost two years ago this institution voted to end discrimination against women by health insurance plans.   We voted to make it easier for women to seek referrals to see the health specialists they need.   And we voted to give women greater access to affordable preventive health care services, including contraception.  

These are important historic advances for women’s health and should not fall victim to ideological politics.

Over the last several weeks, we have seen women all across this nation stand up in huge numbers to support women’s health.   That grassroots support will be needed again and again to stave off ideological attacks on women’s health care. 

In the last year, House Republicans have repeatedly attempted to both eliminate funding for Title X family planning funding and defund Planned Parenthood.  Thankfully, we have been able to block these attempts in the Senate. 

Ninety-seven percent of the reproductive health services provided by Planned Parenthood in New Hampshire is preventive care.   And as we all know, preventive health care lowers health costs and saves lives. 

We were reminded of the important role Planned Parenthood plays in preventive health when the Susan G. Komen Foundation decided to end its contracts with the provider.   It is unfair to politicize women’s health in the way we saw played out in the media last week.  Women from across the country let their voices be heard.   The 750,000 women who received breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood clinics with support from the Komen Foundation deserve better.  They didn’t ask to be thrown into the political fire, they merely sought detection and treatment against a life-threatening disease. 

I am pleased that Komen reversed that decision.

I also commend the President for standing up for women’s health and reaffirming the recommendation of the Institute of Medicine to protect access to affordable birth control for all women.  The decision to require health plans’ coverage of contraception with no copays or deductibles will change the lives of millions of women and their families for the better. 

Birth control can cost up to $600 a year; it can be a serious economic concern for women.  Studies have shown that it costs employers as much as 17 percent more to exclude contraceptive coverage in employee health plans than to provide such coverage. 

Birth control is also a fundamental health care issue.  Doctors and public health experts agree that increased access to birth control prevents unintended pregnancies.  It is directly linked to declines in maternal and infant mortality and a reduction in the risk of ovarian cancer.  It is linked to overall good health outcomes. 

Permanent and temporary contraception is critical for family planning purposes, but many women—a full 14 percent -- use birth control for medical and health reasons, including helping to reduce the risk of some cancers, treatment for endometriosis, serious infections and cysts.

Mr. President, let’s be clear.  In talking about the health benefits of birth control, I am not telling women that they must use it.  The decision on whether or not to pursue contraception is an individual choice that each woman must make for herself, without promotion or dissuasion.  No part of the Affordable Care Act, or the President’s ruling regarding insurance coverage, forces any woman to use contraception.  

However, birth control is now affordable and accessible for any woman who, in consultation with her doctor, decides that she wants it.   The policy represents one of the greatest advances for women’s health in decades.

Sadly, there is an aggressive and misleading campaign to deny this benefit to women.  A conscience clause exists that exempts religious institutions, like the churches, from having to carry insurance that covers contraception.  Many have argued that that conscience clause should be expanded to include religiously affiliated hospitals and universities in the name of religious liberty.   

The millions of women who work in a Catholic hospital or university--- from the overnight nurse to the classroom aid or cafeteria worker--  who choose to use birth control should have the same access as their counterpart at another institution.  That is their decision.  Not their employers.

There are religions that believe that divorce is a sin.  Should these institutions be exempt from our labor laws and be allowed to discriminate based on marital status?  Of course not.   This is no different.

A recent survey showed that 71 percent of American voters, including 77 percent of Catholic women voters, support the requirement to make birth control available to all.  They understand that religious freedom means that all women- Catholic or non-Catholic- should have the opportunity to make their own decision when it comes to birth control.  

I applaud the President for his decision and putting women’s health above politics. 

Ideological attacks on women’s health care will continue.  I thank my colleagues here today for speaking out against those who want to turn back the clock on women, to limit access and availability of women’s health services.  We are watching.

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