Mr. HARKIN. Mr. President, I watched many of the statements made by so many of our women Senators who came to the floor in the past hour to talk about this issue of women's preventive health services. I was unable to get to the floor at the time. I want to be here now because, unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion about what the Affordable Care Act does and does not do with respect to women's preventive health services.
As chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and as someone who is very much involved in crafting this legislation, especially the preventive services part of that legislation, I hope to explain the facts and debunk the myths and the misinformation that has recently arisen on this issue.
First, women--nurses, teachers, professors, homemakers, attorneys--everyone from all walks of life, all women in America now have the right to preventive health care services. Beginning this August, the Affordable Care Act guarantees that insured women will have access to expert recommended preventive health care services. These basic services include well-women visits, mammograms, prenatal care, cervical cancer screenings, and contraception.
These critical services will be offered without any out-of-pocket costs such as copays or deductibles. It is the latter, the ability of women to have a health insurance plan that covers contraceptives that has led to this recent controversy, this outpouring, this outburst of political accusations.
Here let me emphasize people of strong faith and good conscious have very different views when it comes to these matters. I understand that. I have great admiration for the many contributions that religious institutions make to our country. Catholic charities provide vital assistance to low-income Americans. Religious universities teach and prepare thousands of young people to be outstanding citizens and productive members of our society. In fact, I attended law school at Catholic University right up the street. I also attended Catholic elementary schools and Catholic high school.
Catholic hospitals are instrumental in providing first-class health care to so many of our fellow citizens. I have spoken many times about the care that Mercy Hospital in Des Moines, a Catholic hospital, gave to my father when he was elderly and in bad health because of black lung disease and he had no money. They provided care for him at no cost. So I have very deep feelings about the generosity and the care that these religious hospitals provide.
It is for this reason I would oppose any measure that threatens the fundamental religious liberties of these institutions. I believe, however, that the President properly balanced the essential health care needs of women with the rights of religious institutions. Let me clarify what this rule does, and most importantly does not do since folks, such as Governor Romney, are misleading the American people--perhaps intentionally distorting the facts--using the issue for demagoguery.
First, churches and other houses of worship are specifically exempt from the requirement that they carry insurance plans that provide contraception.
Second, no individual health care provider, neither religious nor secular, will be forced to prescribe contraception. The President and his administration have previously and continue to express strong support for existing conscience protections. Moreover, other religiously affiliated organizations that employ people of different faiths--such as Catholic colleges and hospitals--can qualify for a 1-year transition period as they prepare to comply with the new law.
Let me point out, no individual will be forced to buy or use contraception. No individual will be forced to buy or use contraception. Under this policy, women who want contraception will have access to it through their insurance without having to pay a copay or deductible, but no one will be forced to buy or to use contraception. Let's make that clear.
Drugs that cause abortion, such as RU486, the morning-after pill, are not covered by this policy. Let me repeat that. Drugs that cause abortion, such as RU486, the morning-after pill, are not covered by this policy and nothing about this policy changes the President's firm commitment to maintain strict limitations on Federal funding for abortions. No Federal tax dollars are used for elective abortions.
Let me quote what Governor Romney said in Colorado just yesterday:
Just this last week, this same administration said that in churches and the institutions they run, such as schools, and let's say adoption agencies, hospitals, that they have to provide for their employees, free of charge, contraceptives, morning-after pills--in other words abortive pills and the like at no cost.
Mr. Romney said.
Think what that does to people in faiths without sharing those views. This is a violation of conscience.
Mr. Romney, this does not cover morning-after pills. And the adoption agencies and the hospitals do not have to provide free of charge contraceptives. All they have to do is to make available, through the broad insurance coverage they have, for women who choose to use contraceptive services, that they can get those without any copays or deductibles. But this does not cover the morning-after pill. Yet I keep hearing it.
I was working out this morning while watching CNN, and somebody else came on talking about how the Catholic Church is opposed to abortions; they should not be forced to fund abortions. This has nothing to do with that. All it says is, if you have a broad-based insurance policy and you are not a religious institution or a church and you are, let's say a hospital, and you have insurance that covers a broad array of people, we have said that insurance must cover a broad variety of preventive services: mammograms, cervical cancer screening, well-women visits--all of that--and contraception--and contraception, a preventive service.
Mr. Romney is going around saying these things, but it is not true. It is simply not true. He is either misinformed or he is purposely trying to mislead the American people--neither of which is acceptable. As I said, churches and other houses of worship are specifically exempt from the requirement that they carry insurance plans that provide contraception.
Second, no individual health care provider, neither religious nor secular, will be forced to prescribe contraception. No individual will be forced to buy or use contraception against her own conscience. All the rules the President announced ensure that all women, no matter who
their employer, have the opportunity to enjoy the same insurance and the same vital preventive services--every woman. In fact, there is nothing radical about such a policy. Fifty percent of Americans currently live in 28 States that require insurance companies to cover contraception. Imagine that.
Several of these States--such as Arizona, New York, Oregon, and California--have had this law in effect for years, saying if you have insurance coverage, you have to provide contraceptive services under that broad coverage of insurance, and these four States have identical religious employer exemptions as the rule the President announced.
Let me repeat, Arizona, New York, Oregon and California have identical religious employer exemptions, the same as the rule the President announced. I did not hear Mr. Romney going after the Governors of Arizona or of New York or Oregon or California. This has now become a political issue, and it should not be. It should not be.
Religious institutions continue to serve the public by providing exemplary health, education, and antipoverty services in these States, and I am hopeful that nothing will change in the rest of the country. Twenty-eight States, half the people who already live in those States that cover the same thing.
The health of women in this Nation is far too important to become a sound bite on the evening news, a headline in the morning paper, or political rhetoric--again, to divide us. The President's policy and what we have done does not divide us. In fact, if anything it unifies the country. I do not think anyone thinks we should pass a law banning contraceptives. We did in the old days, you know. There was a Supreme Court case about that. As a matter of fact, I read it in law school when I was at Catholic University Law School: Griswold v. Connecticut, if I am not mistaken.
The Supreme Court said, no; the State has no interest, no vital interest in telling women they cannot use contraceptive services and devices. That is an old case. If someone is conscience-bound and they say they don't want to--that is fine. No one is being forced to do anything against their consciences. No one is being forced to do anything we have not already done in this country in 28 States. But now it has become political rhetoric. How else do we explain Mr. Romney's total misinformation? To try to divide us as a country again.
It is time to put this aside. It is time to put aside these differences, these divisions, and focus on giving people access to the affordable health care they deserve. That is what the Affordable Care Act does, and we should not let political rhetoric, political gamesmanship, a political campaign again try to tear us apart, try to misinform people to inflame passions that somehow we have gone off on a different path; that we are doing something totally different than what we have done before. We are not. We are not. To include in this the inflammatory rhetoric of abortion and all that it entails is doing a disservice to the women of this country.
I hope the truth will get out, that this misinformation will fall by the wayside, and people will see this for the political rhetoric it is, and that we will move forward with a health care system that does provide broad preventive services to every woman in America. That is what this is about.
I yield the floor. I suggest the absence of a quorum.