May 22, 2003
NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2004
Mrs. FEINSTEIN. I thank the Chair. Mr. President, I also thank the Senator from Washington. I think she is doing a great service to the women of our country in pointing out what the problem is here.
I was sitting in my office doing work, and I heard the statement that this is abortion on demand. I thought it might be useful for me to read into the RECORD one letter I received last year from a woman on this very subject that indicates the difficulty of the circumstances women can find themselves in while living overseas.
I am about to read the story of Holly Webb. Holly is the wife of a staff sergeant in the Air Force stationed in Misawa, Japan. I would like you to hear her story:
My husband was stationed in Misawa, Japan, and I moved over in September 2001 to join him. I was pregnant for the first time. Prior to my arrival in Japan, I felt like something was wrong with my pregnancy, and at 6 weeks I went to the emergency room at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida where we had been stationed.
My doctor there told me that everything seemed OK from what they could tell. At 16 weeks, I was in Japan with my husband, and I started bleeding. I would bleed weekly for 5 days and then the bleeding would subside. I went to the military hospital at Misawa and they told me I had a placenta previa and that this was a normal side effect and they sent me home.
Just so everybody knows, placenta previa is a serious problem some women confront which can impact their pregnancy. It can cause severe problems for the woman including hemorrhaging both during delivery and post-partum.
Continuing the letter:
At 20 weeks, I started bleeding heavily, and I went back to the hospital. I thought that my water had broken but the hospital told me it was not an emergency and kept me overnight. My OB/GYN did not visit me until the next morning.
They told me that the results of my triple screen blood test showed possible spina bifida which necessitated an ultrasound.
When they did the ultrasound, they discovered, as I had thought, that there was no amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus.
They were unable to detect whether or not the fetus had spina bifida.
For the next day, I was administered IV fluids, and my doctor mentioned that I might be dehydrated. My cervix remained closed, however, and they told me there was still a fetal heartbeat. I was told I might deliver spontaneously within weeks or months, but if the baby survived, it would have serious health complications due to the fact I was at risk for infection as well and because there was no amniotic fluid surrounding the baby.
When I asked the hospital what my options were, they told me they could not induce labor or dilate my cervix to deliver because it would be considered an abortion, but that I was at risk for infection. My doctor told me that in order to have an abortion, they would have to have my situation reviewed by a medical board and that she didn't know how long this would take. She told me that during her 7 or 8 years of practice in a military hospital, no matter what the situation was, a woman's request for an abortion was always denied.
My doctor told me the only way I could receive additional medical treatment was if I became ill. I was told to go home and monitor my temperature and to return when I had a fever or was in pain. I asked if there was any other option because I was worried about dying.
At that point, I felt like my choices were either to go home and wait for a life-threatening infection so that my labor could be induced or go to an outside hospital where I didn't speak the language and could not be sure that the treatment would be safe.
When I got to the private Japanese hospital, the doctor told me there was a serious risk for infection and that he needed to put me on antibiotics immediately. If I didn't get antibiotics through IV immediately, I would die. I contacted my grandmother in the United States who wired me $2,000 to pay for the hospital visit.
I checked into the hospital about 4 hours later. They dilated my cervix over a period of 2½ days and induced labor. I delivered a stillborn baby. The military hospital told me that this was an elected abortion and not a stillborn birth.
I am now 17 weeks pregnant again, and my only option is to use the military hospital for my OB/GYN treatment. I have begged them to let me off the base to go to a private doctor because of my experience last year. I believe that my pregnancy puts my health at risk. I would again be prevented from making decisions I need to about my pregnancy.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator's time has expired.
Mrs. FEINSTEIN. I thank the Chair. Let me just make a point.
Mrs. MURRAY. I yield the Senator such time as she needs.
Mrs. FEINSTEIN. I thank the Senator.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from California.
Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, this is just one example of what a women living abroad might go through. We can think
of all kinds of other situations in foreign countries that might necessitate the termination of a pregnancy. Many of these women are living in countries that don't have good health care systems in place, skilled providers, or access to safe or clean hospitals.
This ban is a huge mistake. It is in fact a double standard. I do not know of a health situation a man could encounter that would be dealt with at a military hospital in quite the same manner. Nor do I know of a health situation a man could encounter that a military hospital would not treat.
I thank the Senator from Washington for her amendment and for her leadership on this important issue. I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.
Ms. SNOWE. Mr. President, I support the Murray-Snowe amendment. I comment Senator Murray for her strong and unflagging leadership on this issue, and am pleased to once again join with her on the critical amendment to the Department of Defense authorization. I am pleased to join my colleague in support of this amendment to repeal the ban on abortions at overseas military hospitals, an amendment whose time has long since come.
Year after year, time after time, debate after debate, we revisit the issue of women's reproductive freedoms by seeking to restrict, limit, and eliminate a woman's right to choose. While at times we are able to take one step forward we end up taking two steps back. Last year we were able to garner a majority of the Senate only to have this language removed in conference. I believe that ultimately, we will prevail, that my colleagues on both sides of the Capitol will realize that this is a policy change that makes sense, and I hope that will occur on this reauthorization.
When we last considered this amendment, almost 11 months ago to the day, we had more than 378,000 troops stationed overseas, today we have over 10,000 more. Of those more than 35,000 of these troops were women as of April 2002 and women make up almost 36,500 of the troops today. We recognize the impact that the failure to repeal this ban has on so many of these women.
Since last year's reauthorization debate, the Commander-in-Chief has called our Nation's military into action on another front. As we watched the 24 hour news stations' broadcasting reports from their embedded reporters, we saw more female faces amongst the troops than ever before. We are considering this Defense authorization during a time of war when Americans, both civilian and military, are fighting terrorism and tyranny all across the globe, both men and women. These women, these soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines, deserve access to the same health services that women here in the States have.
As I think about this last conflict, it occurs to me how ironic it is that the very people who are fighting to preserve our freedoms, those who are on the front lines defending this war on terrorism or other parts of the globe, are supporting those who are fighting, are currently the least protected in terms of the right to make choices about their own personal health and reproductive decisions.
"That is why I stand to join my colleague, Senator Murray, once again in overturning this ban on privately funded abortion services in overseas military hospitals, for military women and dependents based overseas, which was reinstated in the fiscal year 1996 authorization bill, as we all know. It is a ban without merit or reason that put the reproductive health of these women at risk.
Specifically, as we know, the ban denies the right to choose for female military personnel and dependents. It effectively denies those women who have voluntarily decided to serve our country in the armed services safe and legal medical care simply because they were assigned duty in another country. It makes me wonder why Congress would, year after year, continue to leave these women who so bravely serve our country overseas with no choice by denying them the rights that are guaranteed to all Americans under the Constitution?
Our task in this debate is to make sure that all of America's women, including those who serve in our Nation's Armed Forces and military dependents, are guaranteed the fundamental right to choose. Our task is not to pay for abortions with Federal fundingcontrary to what our opponents may claim, after all, since 1979 the Federal law has prohibited the use of Federal funds to perform abortions at military hospitals. This amendment would not change that. However, what it would do is reinstate the policy that was in place from 1979 to 1988, when women could use their own personal funds to pay for the medical care they need.
In 1988, the Reagan administration announced a new policy prohibiting the performance of any abortions at military hospitals even if it was paid for out of a woman's private fundsa policy which truly defies logic.
President Clinton lifted the ban in January 1993, by Executive order, restoring a woman's right to pay for abortion services with private, non-Defense Department funds. Just when we had thought that logic would prevail, in 1995, through the very bill we authorize today, the House International Security Committee reinstated this ban which was then retained in the conference. And here we are 8 years later trying to undo this unnecessary threat to our female servicewomen.
Let me take a moment to reiterate a very important point. President Clinton's Executive order did not change existing law prohibiting the use of Federal funds for abortion, and it did not require medical providers to perform those abortions. In fact, all three branches of the military have conscience clauses which permit medical personnel with moral, religious, or ethical objections to abortion not to participate in the procedure. I believe that is a reasonable measure and one I do not take issue with.
Opponents of this amendment argue that changing current law means that military personnel and military facilities are charged with performing abortions, and that this, in turn, means that American taxpayer funds will be used to subsidize abortions. This is a wholly and fundamentally incorrect. Every person who has ever been in a hospital for any type of procedure knows full well that the hospital and the physician is able to account for every charge, the cost of every minute, every physician, every nurse, each aspirin, the supplies, the materials, the overheads, the insurance, anything that is part of the procedure. Under this amendment, every expense is included in the cost that is paid by private funds. Public funds are not used for the performance of abortions in this instance. That is an important distinction to reinforce today. I know it is easy to confuse the debate, to obfuscate the issues. What we are talking about here is restricting how a woman using her own private insurance or money in support of that procedure. We are not talking about using Federal funds.
This amendment we are fighting for is to lift the ban on privately funded abortions paid for with a woman's private funds. That is what this issue is all about. Proponents of this amendment believe that a woman would have the ability to have access to a constitutional right when it comes to her reproductive freedom to use her own funds, her own health insurance, for access to this procedure.
Congress works hard at times of war, and at times of peace, to support our American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, as well as their dependents, our armed services and our armed forces have no better friend and ally than the Congress. I would argue that is the case in most situations, but obviously there is a different standard when it comes to the health of a woman and her reproductive decisions.
This is especially confounding when we all completely agree that our military members and their families have sacrificed a lot, including their lives, for the sake of our Nation and what we believe. For those women overseas we are asking them to potentially, and unnecessarily, sacrifice their health under this ban. Making this type of decision is perhaps the most fundamental, personal, and difficult decision a woman can face. It is a very personal decision. It is a decision that should be made between a woman, her doctor, her family. It is a constitutional right. It is a constitutional right that should extend to women in the military overseas, not just within the boundaries of the United States.
I think it is regrettable that somehow we have demeaned women, in terms of this very difficult decision that they have to make. There has been example upon example given to us, to my colleague Senator MURRAY, about the trying circumstances that this prohibition has placed on women who serve in the military abroad. I do not think for one moment anybody should minimize or underestimate the emotional, physical hardship that this ban has imposed, a ban that prohibits a woman from using her own private health insurance, her own private funds to make her own constitutional decision when she happens to be in the military serving abroad.
The ban on abortions in military hospitals coerce the women who serve our country into making decisions and choices they would not otherwise make. As one doctor, a physician from Oregon, recalls his days as a Navy doctor stationed in the Philippines, he describes the experiences and hardships that result unnecessarily from this policy. Women have to travel long distances in order to obtain a legal abortionnot necessarily a safe abortion, but a legal one. Travel arrangements that are difficult and expensive. Not to mention the fact that in order to take leave, they had to justify taking emergency leave to their commanding officer. Imagine that circumstance. Forcing women to make a very personal decision so well known.
However, for those women who choose to find an alternative, their only option is to turn to local, illegal abortions. In other circumstances, their dignity was offended and often their health was placed at risk, which was certainly reinforced by the letter that was sent to both Senator MURRAY and from now retired, Lt. Gen. Kennedy, the highest ranking woman in the military. She speaks with great perspective about the humiliation and the demeaning circumstances in which many women were placed, not to mention putting their health at risk.
I hope we can overturn this prohibition in law and grant women in the military the same constitutional right that is afforded women who live within the boundaries of the United States of America. No one should leave their constitutional rights at the proverbial door, but that is what this ban has done. Our constitutional rights are not territorial and women who serve their country should be afforded the same rights that women here in America have. I think this ban is not consistent with the principles which our Armed Forces are fighting to protect, and which the American people so overwhelmingly support.
I hope we move forward, and I hope we would understand that women in the military and their dependents overseas deserve the same rights that women have here in this country. They have and should have the protections of the
Constitution, no matter where they live.
I hope the Senate will overturn that ban and will support the amendment offered by Senator MURRAY and myself.
Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, I rise today in support of the amendment offered by Senators MURRAY and SNOWE to the Department of Defense reauthorization bill to repeal the ban on privately funded abortions sought by U.S. servicewomen, spouses, and dependents in military hospitals overseas.
The Supreme Court acknowledges a woman's right to choose as a constitutionally protected freedom. That right is not suspended simply because a woman serves in the U.S. military or is married to a U.S. service member and living overseas.
Women based in the United States and using a U.S.-based military facility are not prohibited from using their own funds to pay for an abortion. Having a prohibition on the use of U.S. military facilities overseas creates a double standard, and discriminates against women service members stationed overseas.
Banning privately funded abortions on military bases endangers a woman's health. Service members and their dependents rely on their military base hospitals for medical care. Private facilities may not be readily available in other countries.
For example, abortion is illegal in the Philippines. A woman stationed in that country or the spouse of a service member would need to fly to the U.S. or to another countryat her own expenseto obtain an abortion. We don't pay our service members enough to assume they can simply jet off to Switzerland for medical treatment.
If women do not have access to military facilities or to private facilities in the country they are stationed, they could endanger their own health by the delay involved in getting to a facility or by being forced to seek an abortion by someone other than a licensed physician.
We know from personal experience in this country that when abortion is illegal, desperate women are often forced into unsafe and life-threatening situations. If it were your wife, or your daughter, would you want her in the hands of an untrained abortionist on the back streets of Manila or Argentina? Or would you prefer that she have access to medical treatment by a trained physician in a U.S. military facility?
Not only would these women be risking their health and lives under normal conditions, but what if these women are facing complicated or life-threatening pregnancies and are unaware of the seriousness of their condition?
The ban on privately funded abortions on military bases overseas affects more than 100,000 active service members, spouses, and dependents of military personnel.
One such woman this ban impacts is Holly Webb.
Holly Webb is the wife of a staff sergeant in the Air Force stationed in Misawa, Japan. She tells the following story of her struggle to find adequate reproductive health care overseas:
My husband was stationed in Misawa Japan, and I moved over in September 2001 to join him. I was pregnant for the first time. Prior to my arrival in Japan, I felt like something was wrong with my pregnancy and at 6 weeks I went to the emergency room at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida where we had been stationed.
My doctor there told me that everything seemed OK from what they could tell. At 16 weeks I was in Japan with my husband and I started bleeding. I would bleed weekly for 5 days and then the bleeding would subside. I went to the military hospital at Misawa and they told me I had placenta previa and that this was a normal side effect and they sent me home.
At 20 weeks, I started bleeding heavily and went back to the hospital. I thought that my water had broken but the hospital told me that it was not an emergency and kept me overnight. My ob/gyn did not visit me until the next morning. They told me that the results of my triple screen blood test showed possible spina bifida which necessitated an ultrasound. When they did the ultrasound they discovered, as I had thought, that there was no amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus.
They were unable to detect whether or not the fetus had spina bifida. For the next day I was administered IV fluids and my doctor mentioned that I might be dehydrated. My cervix remained closed, however, and they told me that there was still a fetal heartbeat. I was told that I might deliver spontaneously within weeks or months, but that if the baby survived, it would have serious health complications due to the fact that I was at risk for infection as well as because there was no amniotic fluid surrounding the baby.
When I asked the hospital what my options were they told me that they could not induce labor or dilate my cervix to deliver because it would be considered an abortion but that I was at risk for infection. My doctor told me that in order to have an abortion, they would have to have my situation reviewed by a medical board and that she didn't know how long this would take.
She told me that during her 7 or 8 years of practice in a military hospital, no matter what the situation was, a woman's request for an abortion was always denied.
My doctor told me that the only way I could receive additional medical treatment was if I became ill. I was told to go home and monitor my temperature and to return when I had a fever or was in pain. I asked if there was any other option because I was worried about dying.
At that point, I felt like my choices were either to go home and wait for a life-threatening infection so that my labor could be induced, or to go to an outside hospital, where I didn't speak the language and could not be sure that the treatment would be safe.
When I got to the private Japanese hospital, the doctor told me that there was serious risk for infection, and that he needed to put me on antibiotics immediately and that if I did not get antibiotics through IV immediately I would very likely die. I contacted my grandmother in the U.S. who wired me $2,000 to pay for the hospital visit.
I checked into the hospital about 4 hours later. They dilated my cervix over a period of 2½ days, then induced labor. I delivered a stillborn baby. The military hospital told me that this was an elected abortion and not a stillborn birth.
I am now 17 weeks pregnant again and my only option is to use the military hospital for my ob/gyn treatment. I have begged them to let me off the base to go to a private doctor because of my experience last year. I believe that if my pregnancy puts my health at risk, I would again be prevented from making the decisions I need to about my pregnancy.
I hope that we have learned something from Mrs. Webb's story. No woman should have to go through the obstacles Mrs.
Webb faced. If Mrs. Webb had been living in the U.S. she would have had a choice. She could have gotten an abortion and avoided the emotional trauma associated with giving birth to a stillborn, and not had to put her own life at risk.
Current law does not force any military physician to perform an abortion against his or her will. All branches have a conscience clause that permits medical personnel to choose not to perform the procedure. A doctor can simply say, "I won't perform such a procedure." And then that woman must just find another doctor.
What we are talking about today is providing equal access to military medical facilities, wherever they are located, for a legal procedure paid for with one's own money.
Abortion is legal for American women. These women would pay for the service with their own funds. This amendment does not involve the use of federal funding.
We ask these service members to risk their lives in the service of their country but we are not willing to grant them access to the same services they would receive if they were stationed in the U.S. This is especially troubling since September 11 since more Americans have decided to serve their country.
Service members and their dependents must have access to safe, legal, and comprehensive reproductive health care.
I urge my colleagues to support this amendment and ask unanimous consent that my statement appear in the RECORD.