Shaheen, Menendez Urge State Department, USAID to Guarantee Access to Health Care Services for Women Employees Abroad

January 25, 2023

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a senior member and the only woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, are calling on the Biden administration to guarantee access to adequate health care services, including reproductive health care and post-sexual assault care, for women employees at the State Department and United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Following a letter by over 200 foreign service officers expressing serious concerns about individuals being denied consistent access to rape kits, family planning services, including emergency contraceptives and medical abortion, and access to obstetrician-gynecologists and other trained professionals, the Senators urged both agencies to update their policies and procedures that govern operations, including by codifying the right to reproductive health care in the Foreign Affairs Manual.

“In the first National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, the Biden administration asserted: ‘Health care is a right—not a privilege. All people deserve access to high-quality, affordable healthcare…we will...promote access to sexual and reproductive health and rights both at home and abroad.’ We struggle to reconcile the National Strategy’s vision with the experience of women working for the State Department and USAID who are asked to carry out the important objectives of that strategy and yet lack access to adequate reproductive healthcare themselves,” the Senators wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and USAID Administrator Samantha Power. “We urge you to take immediate action to effectuate the policies outlined in this strategy …. It is critical—both for their well-being and for the mission of these agencies—that women employees of the State Department and USAID be provided access to adequate healthcare.” 

Acknowledging the agencies’ launch of a Women’s Health Working Group, the Senators pressed for additional information regarding the State Department and USAID’s efforts to address ongoing concerns, including on the commitment of new resources to rectify employees’ inequitable access to health care services overseas.  

Full text of the letter is available here

Senator Shaheen is an unrelenting advocate for women’s reproductive rights. She has long prioritized access to comprehensive reproductive health care for service women. A senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Shaheen introduced an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to enshrine the right for service members to access protected leave for abortion care and services. Shaheen held a press conference with the New Hampshire delegation and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England to discuss what’s at stake for women’s freedoms and reproductive health with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and she spoke on the Senate floor to urge lawmakers to vote in favor of legislation that would codify Roe. For years, Shaheen has fought to expand coverage of women’s preventative care, including through her legislation to reduce the cost of contraception for servicewomen and dependents in military families.  She also penned an op-ed for the Union Leader underscoring the threats to women’s freedoms and rights in a post-Roe America. It can be read in full here.   

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