Back to Americans For Morality Home PageAbortion, Contraception, and Stem Cells
Mr. REID: Mr. President, I introduce a bill on behalf of myself, Mr. Chafee, Mrs. Boxer, Mrs. Murray, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Corzine, and Mr. Lautenberg.
We are very fortunate to live in a democratic nation where we can express our opinions freely. That is what America is all about. We can attempt to influence the policies of our Government and even criticize them without fear of retaliation. We can debate important issues without fear of retaliation by anyone.
One of the most heated debates in the last two decades has been the issue of abortion. People on both sides of the issue feel extremely strong. They have argued, demonstrated, and protested with much emotion and passion. The issue is not going to go away soon. I doubt that one side will be able to suddenly convince the other to drop its deeply held beliefs.
However, there is a need and even an opportunity to find common ground. We can move toward a goal we all share, reducing the number of unintended pregnancies in America. It is possible. And it is necessary to come together and enact effective legislation to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the number of abortions performed in this country, and address the unmet health care needs of American women.
We can only find common ground by being honest with each other. We can find not only common ground but also common sense solutions in this legislation which I am introducing entitled ``Putting Prevention First.'' I am pleased that Senators Chafee, Boxer, Murray, Corzine and Lautenberg are joining me as cosponsors of this legislation.
The Putting Prevention First Act will help reduce the staggering rates of unintended pregnancies in America. It will reduce the rate of infection with sexually transmitted diseases, reduce the number of abortions, and improve access to health care for women.
Specifically, the Putting Prevention First Act will: No. 1, end insurance discrimination against women; No. 2, improve awareness and understanding of emergency contraception; No. 3, ensure that rape victims have information about emergency contraception and access to emergency contraception; No. 4, increase funding for the National Family Planning Program; No. 5, provide funding to allow States to implement a comprehensive approach to sexuality education that includes information about both abstinence and contraception; No. 6, expands teen pregnancy prevention programs; and, No. 7 allows States to expand Medicaid family planning services to low-income women without having to apply for a waiver from the Federal Government.
Nationwide, about one-half of all pregnancies are unintended and half of those end in abortion. This is not just a health problem; it is a public health tragedy. But it does not have to be this way. Most of the unintended pregnancies and resulting abortions can be prevented. We must work together to make that happen, we can find a common ground. One of the most important steps we can take to prevent unintended pregnancies is ensuring that American women have access to affordable, effective contraception.
I have been on national radio call-in shows and talked about legislation I have worked on with Senator Snowe for so many years to provide for contraceptive equity. One time, a woman called and said: I don't believe in contraception. Well, my simple answer to her was: Then don't use them. But don't prevent others who have different beliefs from having the ability to use these contraceptives.
Today, numerous forms of safe and highly effective contraception are available by prescription. If used correctly, they could greatly reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies. _One of the greatest obstacles to the use of prescription contraceptives by American women is their cost. Women are educated. They know that they work. They simply do not have the money.
Again, on a radio program, a woman called in and said: I have diabetes. I am pregnant. I didn't want to become pregnant. It is not good for me. She said: But my husband's insurance doesn't cover the pill.
It is amazing, but many insurance policies do not cover prescription contraceptives for women. But they do automatically cover tubal ligations, vasectomies, abortions, and other such things that are much more expensive than prescription contraception.
Now, we have made progress. Federal Employees have access to prescription contraception through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. But we shouldn't limit this benefit to just federal employees.
We know that women on average earn less than men, and yet they must pay far more than men for health-related expenses. According to the Women's Research and Education Institute, women of reproductive age pay 68 percent more in out-of-pocket costs for medical expenses than men, and, of course, that is largely due to their reproductive health care needs.
Because many women cannot afford the prescription contraceptives they would like to use, many go without. Far too often, this results in unintended pregnancies.
The high cost of prescription contraceptives is not just a problem for the millions of women without health insurance, but also for millions of American women who do have health insurance because many insurance plans that cover prescription drugs do not cover contraceptives. So women are forced to either do without contraceptives or pay for them out of pocket and, as I have given an example or two, many families simply cannot afford it. This is unfair to women and their families and it is a bad policy because it causes additional unintended pregnancies and adversely affects the health of women.__Since 1997, Senator Olympia Snowe and I have worked to remedy this problem. Today, as part of the Putting Prevention First Act, I am again proposing common-sense legislation that has received bipartisan support.
The Equity in Prescription Insurance and Contraceptive Coverage Act EPICC, as we call it requires insurance plans that cover prescription drugs to provide the same coverage for prescription contraceptives. We are not asking for special treatment, only equitable treatment within the context of an existing prescription drug benefit. This legislation is simply the fair thing to do for women.
And making contraception more affordable and more available will enable more women to use safe and effective means to prevent unintended pregnancies. As I said, it is a goal we all share.
Contraceptive coverage is much cheaper than other services, including, as I have said, abortions, sterilizations, and tubal ligations that insurance companies routinely cover. The Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, which has provided contraceptive coverage for several years because of an amendment offered on this floor, has proved that adding such coverage does not increase the cost of a plan.
This commonsense, cost-effective legislation is long overdue. Promoting equity in health insurance coverage for American women, while working to prevent unintended pregnancies and improve the health of women, is by any means the right thing to do.
We should also take additional steps that would improve access to women's health care for poor and low-income women. Public health programs such as Medicaid and title X provide high-quality family planning services and other preventive health care to underinsured or uninsured individuals. Yet these programs are struggling to meet the growing demand for subsidized family planning services without corresponding increases in funding.
The Putting Prevention First legislation would increase the authorization for title X, and it would allow States to expand Medicaid family planning services to women with incomes of up to 200 percent of the Federal poverty level without having to apply to the Federal Government for a waiver.
This commonsense approach has long been championed by Senator Lincoln Chafee. My friend and cosponsor of this legislation knows that contraceptive use saves scarce public health dollars. Every $1 spent on providing family planning services saves an estimated $3 in expenditures for pregnancy-related and newborn care for Medicaid alone. The Putting Prevention First Act would increase the awareness and availability of emergency contraception, an important yet poorly understood form of contraception. Approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration, emergency contraception pills work to prevent pregnancy, and they cannot disrupt or interrupt an established pregnancy. The emergency contraception pills work to prevent pregnancy, not to interrupt and disrupt a pregnancy. The availability of emergency contraception is very important for women who survive a sexual assault.
I can remember a young woman who worked for me, a teenager. She came to me and said: Could I see you in your office?
I said: Sure. What is the matter?
She said: I was jumped.
She was driving through a part of town alone. Some people pulled her car over and they raped her. I sent her to another friend of mine who is an OB/GYN.
It is difficult to imagine the physical, psychological, and emotional pain endured by a woman who is raped. In addition to the violent attack, she must also worry about the possibility she could become pregnant.
The availability of emergency contraception is important for women who survive a sexual assault. A woman could use emergency contraception in an emergency, such as if she has been raped and doesn't want to become pregnant.
Compassion is a word we have heard a lot from political leaders in recent years. Actions speak louder than words. Surely it would be compassionate to make emergency contraception available to a woman who is raped so she doesn't become impregnated by the thug who brutalized and traumatized her.
The Putting Prevention First Act includes a provision that has been advocated by Senators Corzine and Murray. This provision would require hospitals receiving Federal health dollars to provide information about emergency contraception and make it available to sexual assault survivors who are treated in the emergency room. Simply put, emergency contraception should be made available in an emergency room.
Emergency contraception and emergency rooms go hand in hand. Women who are the victims of rape should be informed of all their options, including emergency contraception.
If they choose that option, it should be available to them right then.
Emergency contraception has been studied extensively and is regarded as a safe and effective method to prevent unintended pregnancies. Its use has been recommended by leading medical authorities, including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. It has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. An FDA advisory panel has recommended emergency contraception be made available without a prescription. This could prevent 1.7 million unintended pregnancies and 800,000 abortions in America each year.
Unfortunately, however, emergency contraception remains for the most part a well-kept secret. Most of the women who would use this to prevent an unintended pregnancy are unaware of its existence, and they don't know it is available, if it is available. Even many health care providers do not understand what emergency contraception is, how it works, and who can use it.
To reduce unintended pregnancies by raising awareness about emergency contraception, the Putting Prevention First Act includes a provision championed by Senator Murray that will provide funding to develop and distribute information about emergency contraception to public health organizations, health care providers, and the public. I commend Senator Murray and appreciate her allowing me to include this in my legislation.
These are some of the simple but necessary steps we can and should take to prevent unintended pregnancies. We should embrace these measures to protect the health of American women, prevent unintended pregnancies, and reduce abortion. It is time to put prevention first.
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