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Sens. Boxer, Clinton, Mikulski and Rep. DeGette Hold News Conference on Roe v. Wade

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BOXER:
I want to welcome everybody here.

I would ask my colleagues to come close, please. And we're going to change the order here because senators have to run to
other meetings, because we are in session.

We are gathered here this morning to mark the 30th anniversary of Roe. And for me, I want to make the point that notwithstanding what the protesters are saying, who are marching around today, calling for the overthrow of Roe, that Roe is a very moderate decision, a very balanced decision, which took all the interests into account.

Why do I say that? Because essentially Roe said that women can make a very private and personal decision in the early stages of a pregnancy. And after that, government could get involved in setting some of the rules, but always, always the health and the life of the woman must be paramount.

So I think we have to remember that we're talking about a landmark law which really considered all the factors. And in my view, Roe gives women the respect that women deserve and the trust that women deserve.

Right now, we're in a tremendous fight to preserve Roe and to preserve the spirit of Roe and to preserve the respect that women were given after Roe. And our fight, as I see it now, is to always stand up for the health and the life of a woman. That is very, very important. And many of the amendments that are going to be thrown at us will not, in fact, respect the health of a women.

And this is something that the American people strongly support, it's something we support and is in many ways the bedrock of Roe.

So we have to stop everything that the other side will throw at us which would harm the health of women.

And finally, we have to stand up for Roe itself, and that means ensuring that the courts uphold Roe. And we are going to be having some, I believe, major debates regarding the court, the Supreme Court, the other courts here, over the nominees that President Bush is sending us.

BOXER:
I will never forget, when he was declared the winner, he stepped out and said: I'm going to govern from the center. Well, we are watching, and so far we haven't seen that, and it's very, very disturbing to us.

Why is it disturbing to us? Because before Roe was decided women were dying, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of women, thousands of women were dying because of back alley, illegal abortions. And many of us remember that very clearly. We cannot go back.

I look forward to introducing the bill to codify Roe, the Freedom of Choice Act, and bringing this issue before my colleagues.

And now it is just with a great deal of pleasure that I introduce our senior senator, senior female senator, one who stands and fights for women and for families every day of her life, Senator Barbara Mikulski.

MIKULSKI:
Thank you, Senator Boxer. You're such a champion on this issue.

I'm proud to be here with my colleagues to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Before Roe, too many
women died in illegal abortions.

I believe that women faced with difficult decisions about their pregnancy must have options that are safe; those decisions must be private. And we must continue to affirm the right of privacy in this country and the right of women to choose according to their medical and other circumstances in their lives.

For those who wonder are we pro-abortion: We are pro the health of women. We believe that abortion should be safe, legal and rare. And this is why we support Roe v. Wade.

Today's anniversary is a solemn one. Thirty years have passed, and yet once again Roe is under attack. The Bush administration is already whittling away at the spirit of Roe. There's a war against contraception, there's a war against birth control, there's a war against women, whether he's attacking international family planning by reinstituting the global gag rule or appointing women to the Women's Health Advisory Committee who are absolutely opposed to Roe v. Wade and absolutely opposed to the FDA decision to approve RU-486.

When we deny women access to the tools she needs to choose, we deny her the right to help herself and her family. If we're to meet the existing needs for family planning around the world, if we're going to fight the global epidemic of AIDS around the world, we need to protect maternity and child health, and one of the first ways is family planning.

Now, abortion is never and never should be used as a tool for family planning. But this is a whole continuum that the war against women is being waged.

So on this anniversary of Roe v. Wade we want to affirm the principals of Roe v. Wade, we want to affirm the fact that we will fight for an independent judiciary in terms of the decisions related to women, related to privacy, and we will also continue to fight for the programs that improve the maternity and child health to enable women to plan their families, and also that when their children are born we're going to make sure they have the right schools, the right help they need to move on.

If we're talking about a culture of life, it begins right here and now.

I turn this over to my colleague, Senator Clinton.

BOXER:
Let me just say a word about Senator Clinton. When Senator Clinton was the first lady—and we've been reminded of that because all the first ladies got together and there she was—she really brought to that job—and it is a job—a real strong caring about families. Women and children and men alike, families. And when we saw that she was elected to the United States Senate by the people of New York, we women in the Senate in particular, although I really speak for all my Democratic colleagues and many of my Republicans as well, knew that we were getting a gem.

Well, we have gotten a gem. And when she speaks out people listen, and she's quite eloquent on this particular issue. It is my great honor to introduce her to you.

CLINTON:
Oh, Barbara, thank you very much.

Well, I want to thank my colleagues, and I want to thank Congresswoman DeGette also for being with us here to commemorate this anniversary, but also to sound an alarm, because I think that the assault on the fundamental right of privacy that was guaranteed in the Roe decision is under attack from all directions.

CLINTON:
And as you've already heard from my colleagues, this is not just a debate over the future of Roe or even over the future of abortion. This is a debate over the fundamental right of privacy and the rights of women to make decisions about what is best for themselves and their families.

Now, if this were only a debate about abortion, I think that we would still be here and we would be very concerned about the efforts to undermine it through judicial appointments and other means. But what I want the American people to recognize is that it goes far beyond that.

A number of us have worked on legislation to improve women's and children's health. And in this past two years, we championed legislation like the Women's Health Act. We fought for the Office of Women's Health at the Department of Health and Human Services to provide new resources so that women would have access to quality prenatal care.

I was proud to co-sponsor along with my other colleagues, the Mothers and Newborns Insurance Act, which would have provided health coverage for low-income pregnant women under the Children's Health Insurance Program administered by the states. We supported equity in prescription insurance and contraceptive coverage provisions. And we were supporting our women in the military who are denied access to reproductive health care in American hospitals overseas, even with their own private funds.

Yet even with strong bipartisan support, we could not pass these bills, because the forces that do not want women to have the right to privacy when it comes to the most fundamental human right—control over one's body—were also against all of these other bills that would advance women's health. Because, guess what? Women come in a whole package and we have reproductive health issues, as well as, you know, problems with every other organ in our body.

Now, I think what we're trying to say today is that we have made real progress over the last 10 years in recognizing the importance of the right of privacy and we've also seen the decline in the number of abortions. I think that's great news, because along with Senator Mikulski, I believe abortion should be legal, safe and rare.

My husband first started talking about that in 1992; that has been the hallmark. And under a pro-choice president, we saw the rate of abortions going down. So we were doing something right in this country because, for all kinds of reasons, women were making choices that were right for themselves.

Now, I'm concerned, though, that this effort on the part of this administration to turn the clock back not only affects American women, but affects women around the world. The reinstitution of the global gag rule, the continuing effort to deny family planning funds for impoverished women in nations around the world is a terrible signal to send. It will not help the women who are most vulnerable. It will not prevent back-door, back-alley abortions. It will, instead, increase once again the injury and death that flows from the lack of access to contraception and the lack of access to legal and safe abortions.

So we have a lot at stake in this. And I know there are many women who have grown up with Roe v. Wade and cannot imagine that they could be living in a place that would deny them access to family planning, that they could have a government, like we do now, that takes information off of web sites about contraception or that they could see the end of their fundamental right of privacy. But this, make no mistake about it, is the agenda of this administration and their allies in Congress, and we want to sound the alarm.

DEGETTE:
Thank you.

I'm Congresswoman Diana DeGette from Colorado, and I'm the co- chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus in the House.
I'm very pleased to join with my Senate colleagues today in our commitment to preserving all of the freedoms that Roe v. Wade, which was decided 30 years ago today, have given us.

Since August of 1995, the U.S. House of Representatives has voted to restrict a woman's right to choose 43 times. I've seen recent polls that show while the majority of American women are strongly pro- choice, they also don't believe that their right to choose will be taken away.

Well, guess what? They better start worrying and they better start worrying today, because now we have an anti-choice leader in the House. We have an anti-choice leader in the Senate. And we have an anti-choice president in the White House. No longer is there a stopgap to a woman's right to choose being taken away.

DEGETTE:
We expect to see in this Congress a number of bills passed in the U.S. House which restrict a woman's right to choose.
But this issue is much broader than simply eating away at the edges. It's broader than restricting a medical procedure or instituting a so-called conscience clause.

What this is about is a concerted effort to have a number of votes in the House, which will then go to my colleagues in the Senate. But the ultimate goal is to get members of Congress used to voting anti-choice so that when judicial nominees are brought to these women in the Senate, they believe, the anti-choice extremists in this country believe that they will be able to get anti-choice judges and even a justice to the Supreme Court confirmed.

There has not been a moment in history where choice is more at risk than it is today, and I think the women of America can no longer say to their daughters and to their granddaughters that they will have the right to choice.

It's time for a wakeup call to American women on today, the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. They need to get active. They need to let their representatives and senators know choice is important.

And as my colleague said, it's not about abortion; it's about a woman's right to make her own decisions about her own bodies. That is at risk today and that's why we are sounding the trumpet call to get active to American women.

The Pro-Choice Caucus in the House intends to not just fight against these restrictions against choice. We have a proactive agenda. We will work with our Senate colleagues to make sure birth control is protected and expanded, to make abortions rare, and also to codify Roe v. Wade so that our granddaughters will know that they have the same protections that people like me have been able to grow up with.

And with that, I think we're ready to take any questions.

BOXER:
Anybody have questions?

DEGETTE:
Thank you very much.

QUESTION:
Senator Clinton, may I ask a quick question about Iraq, please?

CLINTON:
A question on Iraq?

QUESTION:
There's been increasingly harsh rhetoric out of the White House. Yesterday President Bush going so far as to say, you know: This looks like a rerun of a bad movie, I'm not interested in watching it.

How does that, you know (OFF-MIKE)? What do you feel about this kind of rhetoric coming out of the White House? (OFF-MIKE) the administration on, you know, convincing the American people that this is the right cause, this is the right course?

CLINTON:
Well, I believe that the president still has to make his case to the American people with respect to any action that might be taken, and I also believe that we should give the inspections time to work. They may or may not in the end be able to do the job of disarming Saddam Hussein in a very difficult environment, but they have been making some progress, and I want to see that played out.

So I voted for the Iraqi resolution. I consider the prospect of a nuclear-armed Saddam Hussein who can threaten not only his neighbors, but the stability of the region and the world, a very serious threat to the United States. But I do think that the inspectors should be given every means necessary to be successful, and we ought to play this out for a while longer.

QUESTION:
(OFF-MIKE) it helps or it hurts, this kind of tone that's coming out of the White House?

CLINTON:
Well, I'm not going to comment on that. I'm going to speak for myself.

The FDCH Transcript Service Jan. 22, 2003

List of Speakers
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-CALIF.)
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-N.Y.)
SEN. BARBARA A. MIKULSKI (D-MD.)
REP. DIANA DEGETTE (D-COLO.)

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