CHILD CUSTODY PROTECTION ACT--Continued -- (Senate - July 25, 2006)
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, one of the principal obligations of government should be to enable families to grow and prosper and bring new life into the world. Our policies and our actions should be aimed at helping all families thrive in this great land of opportunity. Surely, we can agree that Congress should do all it can to help young women make choices that will help them be part of such thriving families.
In this land that cherishes individual rights and liberties, a woman has the constitutional right to make her own reproductive decisions, and I support that right. But abortion should be rare, as well as safe and legal. For that reason, being pro-choice also means helping women choose whether to become pregnant and providing them with support so they can make choices about their pregnancy that are not determined by their inability to afford or care for a child.
Congress and the administration can take a number of constructive steps to enhance choice and help to reduce the number of abortions. Unfortunately, time and time again, this Republican Congress and this Republican administration have turned their backs on women who need our help.
If Congress were serious about reducing abortions, we would be expanding family planning. But the administration and the Republican Congress have refused to increase funding for these important programs.
A serious effort to create a true culture of life would also include providing additional options to teenagers who become pregnant, such as by supporting adoption and foster care. But last year this Congress limited the number of children eligible for foster care and reduced assistance to States for their foster care systems.
Another way to reduce abortions is to promise a pregnant teenager that she and her child can rely upon some basic minimum of health care. For a third of all mothers and babies in America, that means Medicaid. Medicaid also provides the prenatal and pediatric care that children need to be healthy. But earlier this year, the administration proposed $13.5 billion in budget cuts to Medicaid.
A further source of help to young women who are pregnant is through the maternal and child health services block grant, which serves 27 million women and children. Here, too, an administration that calls itself pro-life should be doing all it can to provide services to infants. But the President's budget proposes only $693 million for a program that was funded at $730 million just 3 years ago.
If the administration wanted to reduce abortions, it would promise women that their infants will not go hungry. But President Bush has proposed cuts to the WIC Program that would reduce services across the program and cut out of the program entirely as many as 850,000 mothers and children.
Abortions would be rarer if young mothers could depend upon childcare. This Congress has underfunded childcare by $10.9 billion. The result is that 600,000 fewer children will have their childcare subsidized.
In short, there are many constructive steps that Congress could take today to reduce teenage pregnancy and promote a true culture of life. Instead, the Republican leadership has decided to play politics with the health of young women. The bill we are debating today does nothing to stand by young women in their time of need. It does nothing to prevent unwanted pregnancies. It does nothing to reduce abortions by letting women know that their infant will be fed, have good health care, and be cared for. It does not even prevent minors from crossing State lines to obtain an abortion. Instead, it threatens prison time to anyone who helps them to do so, even if the person providing assistance is a compassionate grandparent or aunt or uncle or even a member of the clergy.
Congress ought to have higher priorities than turning grandparents into criminals. I believe parental involvement is extremely important to teenagers' lives, and never more so than when a minor must make an extraordinarily difficult decision. But the Federal Criminal Code is not the right tool to improve communication and trust between parents and their daughters.
Constructive steps that would actually work to make abortion rare are contained in the Menendez-Lautenberg amendment on teenage pregnancy prevention. It calls for comprehensive sex education, not misleading abstinence-only programs. It increases the authorization for afterschool programs that encourage academic achievement, such as Trio, GEAR UP, and 21st Century Community Learning Centers that help keep teenage girls out of trouble. It increases funding for the Carol White Program, which encourages young women to become involved in sports, since we know that young women who participate in sports are far less likely to become pregnant.
Why aren't we spending our time helping young women succeed instead of denying them help in their time of need? The answer is that real solutions would unite us at a time when Republicans want to divide us.
I urge all of those who want to make abortion rare to rethink our shopworn slogans and pat answers. The way to foster a culture of life is not through a culture of war.
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