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The Progressive Message

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. LEE of California. Thank you very much. I want to thank our chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus for yielding and for your amazing leadership on so many tough issues that we're dealing with.

Tonight we're joining with the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, of which I'm also a member. And so I'm very pleased to be down here with my colleagues to discuss this critical issue, a very sad day, quite frankly, for women in this country, and especially for poor women, for African American women, for women of color.

This bill which was passed today is really just the newest attack in what I have been calling from day one the Republican ``war on women.'' Today, instead of focusing on ways to find jobs for Americans, the Republicans are focusing on eliminating family planning programs, undercutting women's right to choose, and returning our country, unfortunately, to the days of back-alley abortions, which I remember very well.

H.R. 358, the Protect Life Act--can you believe that, ``Protect Life Act''--forces coverage for women to be dropped from State exchanges, which will cut off millions of women from affordable, comprehensive health care. In fact, this bill makes it virtually impossible for any health care plan to offer abortion coverage and allows hospitals to refuse to provide lifesaving care to a woman who needs an abortion to protect her own life. This is unprecedented, and it should have been rejected on this floor.

This legislation really though is part of a coordinated, nationwide war on women. Just last week, the Republican-controlled House Foreign Affairs Committee voted to defund the United Nations Population Fund, an organization that supports lifesaving activities for women and families in post-conflict and disaster situations. And before that, the very same committee voted to reinstate the Global Gag Rule, which prevents health care providers from even discussing or offering comprehensive health services to women and girls. This affects women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa who bear the brunt of the global AIDS pandemic. And of course, as usual, the Republicans have targeted Planned Parenthood, putting increased requirements on how this nonprofit, which provides affordable health care to low-income women, black women, women of color, Latino women, Asian-Pacific American women--if Planned Parenthood wants to receive Federal funding, they have to stop, mind you, providing women reproductive health choices, which really is only a tiny percentage of what Planned Parenthood offers to women.

Sadly, it does not end there. It's nothing less than shocking that after holding the fiscal year 2011 budget hostage over their controversial policy proposals, the anti-choice leaders in the House seem eager to pick up some of the very same fights once again this year.

The Republican appropriations bill continued this attack on women's reproductive health by eliminating title X, the Nation's family planning program, defunding Planned Parenthood, cutting funding for science-based teenage pregnancy prevention initiatives--prevention, mind you--and redirecting those funds into failed abstinence-only programs. And the list goes on.

So let's just return to the battle, though, that took place today. In putting forward this very divisive bill, Republicans made the false claim that the Affordable Care Act needs to be amended to ensure that United States taxpayer dollars are not used to fund abortions. The fact of the matter is that it's very disingenuous, and it's just wrong. And it's really amazing that that argument could even be put out there because the fact is the Hyde amendment has been in effect for decades, since 1976, and the Affordable Care Act continues the Hyde amendment policy, despite my personal view that it should be overturned.

The Republicans continue to invent new ways to try and erode and deny women their constitutionally guaranteed rights purely on religious beliefs and on ideology. This is a democracy; this is not a theocracy. The religious views of some--and I am a woman of faith, but I have to tell you, the religious views, the personal religious views of some should not dictate public policy for all.

I'm also aware of the fact that sometimes we as a Nation really don't give young women and girls the right tools to prevent unintended pregnancies in the first place. But the fact of the matter is this Republican war on women and this bill will put more lives at risk, isolate us from women who have no money, who are poor--especially women of color, who have become really central targets of these efforts. Evidence of this is seen all over the country, and very recently in the form of very offensive billboards that denigrated African American women in my own district in Oakland, California--which we fought against and which were quickly taken down. Now, by using a combination or at least trying to use a combination of law and guilt, these efforts undermine really the basic health care rights of women, African American women, low-income women, women of color.

As SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective states, ``Black women make decisions every day about whether to parent or not, not just whether to give birth. Those who think they should dictate our choices won't be there when the child is born to help us fight for better education, increase childcare, keep our kids out of jail, send our children to college, or get affordable health care.''

This war on women must stop. We cannot and we must not allow the Republicans to turn back the clock on women, on choice, and on our access to health care. So I urge my colleagues to fight this war, fight against these unnecessary and these harmful initiatives that keep coming forward that continue to do damage to women and that continue to try to erode our basic health care and basic human rights. We need to create jobs rather than continue to deny health care to women.

Thank you, Mr. Ellison, our cochair of the Progressive Caucus, for your leadership. Once again, I want to thank you for your leadership on our jobs initiative, on each and every effort that the Congressional Black Caucus has mounted. And thank you for joining with the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus in our efforts to protect women and protect our basic rights.

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