Cantwell on Blunt Amendment: ‘Stop Making Women’s Healthcare a Scapegoat’
Cantwell Votes to Defeat Amendment That Could Threaten Access to Preventative Care In Senate Floor Speech, Cantwell Calls for End of Attacks on Women’s Health, Urges Focus on Job Creation ** VIDEO AVAILABLE **
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) took to the Senate floor and criticized the Blunt Amendment as an unnecessary distraction preventing a vote on a bill to create jobs and invest in America’s infrastructure. Senator Roy Blunt’s [R-MO] Amendment to a transportation bill, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act,would have allowed employers to deny employees healthcare coverage for contraception and other preventative health services.
Cantwell voted against the Blunt amendment, which failed by a 51-48 margin.
“So I ask my colleagues to turn down this amendment and I ask my colleagues on the other side of the aisle let’s get on to the business at hand,” Cantwell said in a floor speech before the vote. Click here to watch a video of Cantwell speaking on the floor. “Focusing on our economy and focusing on jobs and stop making women’s healthcare a scapegoat for what you think is wrong with America. It’s actually what’s right with America. And let’s focus on jobs.”
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the transportation bill would create or save 1.8 million jobs nationwide. The transportation bill would also expand innovative financing programs to leverage federal dollars to help create an additional 1 million jobs.
In her floor speech, Cantwell noted that federal courts and many states have already debated and settled this issue. In the landmark case of Erickson v. Bartell in 2001, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik ruled that aself-insured employer plan’s denial of contraceptive coverage while offering other prescription coverage was a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. And in 2007, after years of litigation, Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private sector employer, began including contraceptive coverage for insured employees. Partly as a result of these and other legal cases, Washington state has required private health insurer’s to include access to contraception in plans with prescription coverage since 2007. Twenty-seven other states have similar laws and rules in place.
“And so while I know my colleague thinks this is a new debate it’s not a new debate. It’s a debate that has been had in America among states and courts have used federal statutes to protect the rights of women,” said Cantwell. “So now I see that we’re going to have this debate today. And I ask my colleagues how many more times this year are we going to interrupt the business of the Congress on things like transportation, on infrastructure, to have a debate that has already been settled?”
A full transcript of Cantwell’s remarks as delivered is below:
Mr. President I rise to join this debate today and I certainly respect the Senator from Missouri for his views and for his own interpretation of what he thinks his amendment does.
But I couldn’t disagree more on what the amendment says, what the amendment will do, and what the process has been for us to get to this point. I mean we’re down here and I know my own office, myself, my focus is on our economy and getting our country moving again and focusing on jobs.
And so when I see a transportation bill that is now mired in this debate I ask myself how much more time are we going to waste debating and re-debating an issue that we’ve been debating?
I know that some people think this is an important debate related to transportation. But it seems as if the other side of the aisle in all the discussions we’ve been having for the last year about jobs, about appropriations bills, about the debt ceiling, about moving forward on reconciliation all come down to one thing. Let’s get rid of reproductive healthcare for women.
In February of last year they introduced the bill H.R. 1. They said let’s defund Planned Parenthood. Then later in April came a big moment of are we going to move forward with a continuing resolution? And it was all brought to a halt until we could have a vote on defunding Planned Parenthood.
And then we had another vote on it. In the latest discussions about the payroll deal there was discussions about whether a rider was going to be in there that cut women’s reproductive healthcare access.
And appropriations bills just last December, same issue. Every step of the way it seems as if there is an assault on women’s reproductive choice and having access to healthcare. So I know my colleague from Missouri thinks this issue might just be about something the Administration’s done in the healthcare bill but his party is making everybody in America believe that we can’t get our economy going and balance our budget and deal with our deficit unless we defund women’s healthcare choices.
And nothing could be more incorrect about that logic. We are holding up the business of America just for these votes on basically curtailing rights to access that women already have. So Mr. President it’s so frustrating to think that we’d be going backwards on this.
And I applaud the Chair of the Transportation Committee because she has worked hard on this legislation. Its 30,000 jobs in the state of Washington by the Department of Transportation’s estimates. I know it’s going to help save about 1.8 million jobs and create another million jobs on a national basis. And so I certainly want to get to the job at hand.
And when I think about the 485,000 Washington women who would be affected by the Blunt Amendment, by curtailing their access to healthcare. And while some people think it’s about contraceptives, it is about that, but it’s also about breast cancer screening. And we have one of the highest rates of breast cancer in the country so we want to make sure that we get those screenings done. It’s about wellness exams, about diabetes screening, about flu shots, about vaccinations, about mammograms, about cholesterol. We’re having this debate today instead of talking about transportation infrastructure about defunding these vital programs.
Now the reason why I say this is so important to us and so important to us in Washington state is because we’ve been having this debate. We’ve been having this debate since almost 2001-2002 on the Bartell’s drug decision. And so my colleague who says that, well these businesses wouldn’t dare do anything based on cost under my amendment, I think all he has to do is look at the Federal cases that were brought against major employers like Wal-Mart, like Bartell’s, like DaimlerChrysler, and other organizations who weren’t providing full reproductive choice for women and discriminating against them and their healthcare benefits.
And a federal law, a federal statute was used to say that these practices were discriminatory. So the same debate we’re having here today has played out in state after state. In our state, the Bartell’s drug decision. And in that decision, the courts have found that you cannot use these principles to discriminate.
It is a violation of the civil rights clause. And so while I know my colleague thinks this is a new debate it’s not a new debate. It’s a debate that has been had in America among states and courts have used federal statutes to protect the rights of women.
So now I see that we’re going to have this debate today. And I ask my colleagues how many more times this year are we going to interrupt the business of the Congress on things like transportation, on infrastructure, to have a debate that has already been settled.
And I know my colleague thinks that the amendment is very narrowly written. It’s not. I don’t think that’s the interpretation of any legal mind that it is narrowly written. It will affect and give employers the right the courts have already said they don’t have the right to discriminate, it will re-open the cases of those large employers who have already been found against and say to them yes, you can come up with a reason and curtail access to preventive healthcare for women that is so needed at this time.
So I ask my colleagues to turn down this amendment and I ask my colleagues on the other side of the aisle let’s get on the business at hand. Focusing on our economy and focusing on jobs and stop making women’s healthcare a scapegoat for what you think is wrong with America. It’s actually what’s right with America. And let’s focus on jobs.
I thank the President and I yield the floor.
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