February 25, 2019

Hirono, Murray, and Colleagues Denounce Latest Republican Attack on a Woman’s Right to Choose in Remarks on the Senate Floor

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Tina Smith (D-Minn.), took to the Senate floor to oppose S. 311, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. The legislation would allow abortion providers to be sued for not providing the invasive and unwarranted medical procedures that the bill could require, subject providers to criminal penalties for providing standard medical care, and interfere with personal health care decisions that would best be left to a woman and her doctor. 

In her remarks, Senator Hirono argued that women and their doctors are best positioned to determine their own course of medical care – not conservative politicians in Washington, DC.

“This legislation uses a false premise to inflame the public, shame women, and intimidate health care providers,” Senator Hirono said. “When you strip away the ultra-conservative rhetoric, you’re left with a very simple argument from supporters of this legislation: that the moral judgments of right-wing politicians in Washington should supersede a medical professional’s judgment and a woman’s decision. Conservative politicians should not be telling doctors how they should care for their patients. Instead, women—in consultation with their families and doctors—are best positioned to determine their best course of care.”

“This bill is government interference in women’s health care, in families’ lives, and in medicine on steroids. It is, as I said, clearly anti-doctor, anti-woman, and anti-family. It has no place becoming law. Its proponents claim it would make something illegal that is already illegal,” Senator Murray said. “I am against it in the strongest terms. Everybody who cares about women—families—doctors—upholding the Constitution—should be too.”

“This misguided legislation would significantly interfere with the doctor-patient relationship and pose new obstacles to a woman’s constitutionally protected right to make her own decisions about her reproductive health. This is an effort to intimidate doctors with the threat of criminal liability for performing safe and legal abortion, which will have a chilling effect on the ability of women to access the services they need in the United States. Now more than ever, we need to stand up and help protect women’s health care and make certain that abortions remain safe and legal,” Senator Shaheen said.

“I can’t begin to conceive of the pain of the mom-to-be who learns that the baby she already loves isn’t viable, or that the child whose name she’s already chosen and whose life she’s already imagined will never open her eyes,” Senator Duckworth said. “All this bill would do is sharpen those families’ suffering and make it harder for the next woman to get the care that could save her life. I’ve said this a thousand times before, and I’ll keep saying it until I go hoarse: A woman’s medical decisions should be between her and her physician, not dictated by some politician in DC. I strongly urge my colleagues to vote against S.311: a bill that’s as heartless as it is dangerous.”

“No lawmaker should be in the business of interfering in the doctor-patient relationship. We don’t tell oncologists how to treat their patients. We don’t tell Emergency Room doctors how to save lives, and we shouldn’t tell women’s doctors how to take care of their patients,” Senator Smith said. “I oppose this legislation because we should not be dictating what doctors can or cannot do to deliver the best medical care for women. We need to continue to trust women and their doctors.”

Senator Hirono’s full remarks, as prepared for delivery are below:

Mr. President, I would first like to thank Senator Murray for her steadfast leadership in the fight to protect women’s health care and for arranging this time for us to speak this afternoon.

The legislation we’re debating today is just the latest salvo in the far right-wing assault on a woman’s constitutionally protected right to an abortion.

With all due respect to my colleague from Nebraska, who introduced this legislation, this bill is a solution in search of a problem.

Contrary to what the proponents of this bill argue, it is and has always been a crime to harm or kill newborn babies. And people guilty of this crime can already be charged and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Let’s be clear, the Senate isn’t debating this legislation today because there is an epidemic of infanticide in this country. There isn’t one.

Instead, we’re indulging the majority’s use of a false premise to inflame the public, shame women, and intimidate health care providers.

When you strip away the ultra-conservative rhetoric, you’re left with a very simple argument from supporters of this legislation: that the moral judgments of right-wing politicians in Washington should supersede a medical professional’s judgment and a woman’s decision.

Conservative politicians should not be telling doctors how they should care for their patients. Instead, women – in consultation with their families and doctors – are best positioned to determine their best course of care.

In talking to health care providers in Hawaii, I’ve heard how this legislation – and other bills like it in states across the country – could force them to provide care that is unnecessary or even harmful to patients.

The Hawaii Section of the College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists made this point persuasively in testimony submitted to our State Legislature’s House Committee on Health earlier this month.

In opposing similar so-called “Born Alive” abortion legislation heard in Hawaii’s state legislature – which didn’t make it out of Committee – the group of doctors wrote:

“We are physicians who provide compassionate, evidence-based care. By criminalizing health care providers, this law may actually reduce the number of health care providers (not just the surgeons, but anesthesiologists, nurses, midwives, office staff) willing to provide this care. But again, that is the actual intent of this bill. Reducing access to safe abortion care would threaten the health of women in Hawaii. 

“We are the physicians who care for patients when they find out that their very wanted, very loved baby has severe fetal anomalies. Families sometimes choose to end the pregnancy and provide their baby with palliative care rather than subject their baby to any suffering or futile efforts at resuscitation. These families face very difficult decisions about what their values are and what is best for their family; decisions that none of us has a right to make for them or judge them for. What they need in these moments is compassion and medically accurate information from health care providers free of judgment or politics.”

I couldn’t agree more, and it’s why I urge my colleagues to oppose this legislation.

In just a few minutes, I expect the Senate will defeat this bill, because it will fail to win the required 60 votes. Nevertheless, the threat to women’s reproductive rights is intensifying in states and courtrooms across the country.

Over the past few years, states have enacted hundreds of laws that harm women’s health and violate their constitutional right to an abortion.

Mississippi enacted a prohibition on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Ohio have passed laws banning dilation and evacuation (D&E) – an abortion procedure used usually during the second trimester.

Indiana enacted a bevy of new abortion restrictions – including a law requiring every woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound and mandating she wait 18 hours after the ultrasound to have an abortion.

And Louisiana passed legislation requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals – which would result in only one abortion provider in a state of 4.7 million people.

Advocates have recognized the harm these laws would have on women and have filed suits to block their implementation. Several lower courts have ruled these restrictions unconstitutional, and the cases are moving steadily through the courts of appeals en route to the Supreme Court.

The 5th Circuit, for example, will hear an appeal of a lower court’s decision to block Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban as well as an appeal from Texas to allow its ban on D&E procedures to go into effect.

The 7th Circuit upheld a lower court ruling striking down parts of Indiana’s mandatory ultrasound and waiting period law. The Indiana Attorney General has requested the Supreme Court review the case.

And the Supreme Court temporarily stopped Louisiana’s so-called “admitting privileges” law from taking effect on a slim 5-4 vote. This is the law that could result in one abortion provider in a state of 4.7 million people.

The 5th Circuit will now hear an appeal on the merits of the law – which is virtually identical to a Texas law the Supreme Court struck down in 2016 in the landmark Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision.

The stakes in these court battles, or the more than 20 other abortion related cases making their way through federal court – are incredibly high. Any one of them could provide the opening for the Supreme Court to finally fulfill the right-wing goal of overturning Roe v. Wade.

It is with this central goal in mind that Donald Trump, Majority Leader McConnell, and complicit Republicans in Congress have been working to pack our federal courts with ideologically-driven judges groomed and hand-picked by ultra-conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society.

Donald Trump has already confirmed 85 judges – including 30 to circuit courts and 2 to the Supreme Court. These judges comprise one-tenth of the federal judiciary with more to come.

In fact, a few weeks ago, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 42 nominees out of committee – comprising an additional 5% of the federal judiciary.

Less than 2 weeks ago, Justice Kavanaugh issued a strong dissent in the earlier mentioned Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision to block Louisiana’s anti-choice law from taking effect. Using tortured reasoning, Justice Kavanaugh essentially argued that the Supreme Court should disregard its own precedent from only 2 years ago to allow the Louisiana law to take effect. 

His dissent signaled his strong antipathy to a woman’s right to choose, just as his dissent in Garza v. Hargan did while he was on the DC Circuit. His dissent as a Justice demonstrated the emptiness of his promises to uphold Supreme Court precedent during his confirmation hearing.

Justice Kavanaugh’s promises then to follow precedent is like that of other Federalist Society-picked Trump nominees now packing our courts:

Offering little reassurance that nominees in fact will set aside their strongly-held ideological views to be objective and fair as judges.

Another case likely to make its way through federal courts in the months and years ahead is a challenge to the Trump Administration’s new gag rule. This rule prohibits doctors and other clinicians participating in the Title X family planning program from referring patients for – or even speaking about – abortions, even if their patient requests such information.

Nearly 20,000 Hawaii residents receive reproductive health care through Title X. That’s roughly the population of Kapolei on Oahu.

This attack on Title X funded agencies like Planned Parenthood is an end-run around Congress after Republicans have tried, and failed dozens of times, to end funding for Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood provides health care for millions of low income women, men, and young people under Title X.

Mr. President, the constitutional rights of millions of women across the country are under serious and sustained attack. But even in these not normal times, I do see some hope. As state after state passes laws to limit access for a woman’s right to choose, communities like Hawaii are continuing to protect such access.

Last week, I joined activists and staff from Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands as they opened their new Medical Center and Administrative Hub in downtown Honolulu.

I was particularly energized to see how many young people – women and men – were there and engaged in the fight to protect our right to choose.

I’ve learned over the years that battles we fought so hard to win never stay won. It’s up to all of us to stay engaged and keep fighting for our constitutionally-protected rights. I yield the floor.

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