08.03.15

STATEMENT OF SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY ON S. 1881 TO PROHIBIT FEDERAL FUNDING TO PLANNED PARENTHOOD CENTERS

We are now seven months into the 114th Congress, and our Nation is faced with many challenges.  Less than a year ago, the American people were promised that if Republicans took control of the Senate, our focus would be on committee-reported bills and promoting bipartisanship.  Leader McConnell pledged not to fill the amendment tree and instead to allow for an open amendment process when bills were brought to the floor.  These promises have already been broken and this week will likely see them broken again. 

We are just a few days before the first debate for the many Republicans seeking their party’s nomination for President.  Given the crowded stage, they have already resorted to attention-getting attacks designed to excite the most extreme right wing of their base.  It should surprise no one then that at the top of the Senate’s agenda this week is a bill that would jeopardize the health and wellbeing of women across the country. 

I spoke in opposition to this misguided, partisan effort last week.  It is disappointing that instead of using the few remaining weeks before the end of the Fiscal Year working to reach an agreement on how to fund the government, we are considering ideologically-driven legislation to bar funding for Planned Parenthood health centers.  This issue is unfortunately all too familiar.  A few years ago, a small but vocal minority nearly shut down the Federal Government over a provision prohibiting funding for Planned Parenthood.  Thankfully, we prevailed in the end, removing the rider and assuring women’s access to vital health care.  I hope the Senate makes the right choice again today.

This latest attack on women’s health is fueled by an extreme organization that is in the process of releasing surreptitiously recorded videos, which the group heavily edited in a misleading way to suggest wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood.  The Attorney General is currently reviewing the matter, and I have every confidence that if there is credible evidence to warrant an investigation of any of the parties involved in the videos, the Justice Department will act. 

The bill before the Senate today would affect the lives of millions of American women, men, and young people who trust and depend on Planned Parenthood for their basic health care needs, including annual health exams, cervical and breast cancer screenings, and HIV screenings.  Last year in Vermont, Planned Parenthood centers provided critical primary and preventive services to over 16,000 patients.  In a small state like Vermont, this impact cannot be overstated.

Proponents of this bill argue that if we defund Planned Parenthood, women will find care at other health centers.  This is simply not the case.  Planned Parenthood centers overwhelmingly serve populations in rural and medically underserved parts of the country where access to health care, especially for low-income individuals, is difficult.  In fact, over 90 percent of Vermont’s Planned Parenthood centers are located in rural or medically-underserved areas.  Many women in my state describe Planned Parenthood as their primary source of health care.  What this partisan bill would do is force the women in Vermont who have trusted Planned Parenthood for their health care to try to find another doctor where few are available, or, more likely, go without care at all. That undermines all of our efforts to strengthen our Nation’s health care system, and ensure access to care for everyone.

Planned Parenthood health centers are eligible for Federal funds in two ways, and under the Hyde Amendment, funds cannot be used for abortion services except in very limited circumstances.  First, Planned Parenthood centers can receive Federal grant funding through Title X of the Public Health Service Act.  Title X is the only Federal grant program dedicated to offering people comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services.  President Nixon was instrumental in enacting this legislation, and it has long been supported by lawmakers and presidents of both parties.  It cannot be emphasized enough that Title X was a remarkable breakthrough in women’s health care.  The second way Planned Parenthood receives Federal funding is through Medicaid reimbursements, when women using Medicaid choose a Planned Parenthood provider as their doctor.      

The federally supported services offered by Planned Parenthood are the core of their work and mission.  Despite the misleading and blatantly false statements of some ideologically-driven advocates, more than 90 percent of the care Planned Parenthood health centers offer is preventive care like cancer screenings, annual checkups, and contraception. As noted by several observers over the weekend, the irony is that defunding Planned Parenthood would result in more unintended pregnancies, and probably more abortions. 

Should we walk back from the remarkable progress we have made as a Nation in women’s health?  Of course not.  But I am concerned that we still see this same irresponsible attack surfacing again and again.  It is 2015.  It is time for the mean-spirited and ideological assaults on women’s health care to end. 

The arrogance and shortsighted attitude of a minority has put at risk the lives and health of millions of women.  Does this Congress care more about what looks good on a bumper sticker or what matters in the daily lives of real people?  My wife Marcelle is a cancer survivor.  We were lucky.  We had good health care and the ability to pay the bills when she got sick.  Others are not so lucky.  Without the services that Planned Parenthood provides, thousands of low-income women in Vermont would lose their ability to have regular cancer screenings that could save their lives too.  That we are even considering the elimination of these health services to America’s women is shameful.

What a travesty it would be to gut health services that have literally meant the difference between life or death, health or grave illness, to countless American women.   This bill is merely an effort to score political points at the expense of women’s health.  I hope the Senate rejects this irresponsible, partisan legislation. And I urge the Senate majority leadership to return to its promise that it would lead this chamber responsibly and act through regular order. 

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