FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 29, 2012


Controversial GOP Proposal Would Bar Contraceptive Coverage For Any Woman Whose Boss Has Moral Objection


WASHINGTON, DC--U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) delivered remarks today on the Senate floor to discuss a Republican amendment to the surface transportation bill that seeks to limit contraceptive coverage for American women. Schumer said that the effect of the amendment, sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), would be to impose a contraception ban for millions of American women whose boss may have a personal objection to the use of birth control.


Schumer said, “This measure would force women to surrender control of their own health decisions to their bosses. … Let’s admit what this debate is really and what Republicans really want to take away from American women. It is contraception.”


“For millions of women whose boss may have a religious objection, this would amount to a contraception ban," Schumer said.

Senator Charles E. Schumer
Statement on Sen. Roy Blunt’s Amendment to Surface Transportation Bill
February 29, 2012

As Prepared for Delivery 

Mr. President, I rise to discuss the amendment to the surface transportation bill offered by my colleague from Missouri. For reasons beyond me, the other side has demanded a vote on birth control. It seems they wish to debate whether we should take away access to contraception for millions of women.

Mr. President, cooler heads are not prevailing on the other side of the aisle these days.

There are some wiser voices on their side who do seem to regret that they are having this debate. But they are the minority. Just this morning, the senior senator from Alaska is quoted in the New York Times expressing exasperation. Of her party’s push to roll back access to contraception, she says, QUOTE, “I don’t know where we are going with this issue,” END QUOTE.

I sympathize with the frustration shown by my friend from Alaska. There’s no good answer about where the other side is going with this issue—except, perhaps, back to the 19thcentury.

This whole debate is an anachronism. Our country progressed beyond the issue of whether or not to allow birth control a long time ago. Yet here we are in 2012, and the Republican Party suddenly wants to turn back the clock and take away contraception from women. Make no mistake: that’s what this debate is about, as backward as it is. I keep hearing this measure being referred to as the Blunt amendment—named after its sponsor, my friend, the Senator from Missouri.

Mr. President, if this amendment passes, it would ban contraception coverage for any woman in America whose boss has a personal objection to it. This measure would force women to surrender control of their own health decisions to their bosses. That concept it is not merely quaint or old-fashioned. It is dangerous and it is wrong.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, some 20 million American women could be cut off from health services by this proposal. The other side doesn’t want the debate framed in those terms because they know it makes them look silly. So instead, they are spinning.

In the last week, there have been op-eds penned by the Minority Leader, the junior senator from Massachusetts, and the junior Senator from Missouri all seeking to frame this as about protecting religious liberty. Don’t believe it for a second.

This debate may have been about religious liberty for a time, but now some on the other side have overplayed their hand. They may have started out seeking protections for religious-affiliated employers, but now they just sense a ripe time to make headway on a far-right social agenda.

This debate reminds me of a famous quote that our former colleague Dale Bumpers used to invoke. It was a quote by H.L. Mencken, who said “When someone says it’s not about the money, it’s usually about the money.”

Well, when the other side tries so hard to claim this debate isn’t contraception, that’s how you know this debate is precisely about contraception. This amendment is not about religious liberty.

The truth is, religious institutions are always been exempt under the law from certain coverage requirements. Under the President’s compromise, an even larger set of employers—those with a religious affiliation, like certain hospitals and schools—also will not have to pay for contraception coverage. It will instead be covered by the insurance company.

The President’s compromise has been widely embraced, including by many of the same Church-affiliated organizations that expressed concern originally. The administration is working on a solution for self-insured employers; I am confident that they will find a way that works for everyone.

The amendment being voted on tomorrow is not responsive to any real concerns about religious freedom. Its reach extends far beyond the church organizations that legitimately seek considerations based on conscience. It wants to let any employer in the country decide to cut off services for any reason whatsoever.

Under the guise of religious liberty, some on the hard right are trying to accomplish a political goal: banning contraception more widely.

This is a goal the other side has been pursuing for a while now at the state level. At the heart of many of the personhood proposals being advanced in state legislature is an attempt to cut off women’s access to certain forms of contraception.

Some Republicans in the Senate now seem to want to nationalize this fringe debate over whether contraception should be allowed. It is not a political winner. Even the House Republicans seem to have the good sense to not bring up this amendment on the floor of their chamber.

But the other side here is pushing ahead with this ban. It is so far-reaching that it has stirred a wide collection of health organizations to speak out against it. These are groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the March of Dimes, and Easter Seals. These are groups with no agenda other than protecting the health of those they serve.

In a letter these groups sent earlier this week, they pointed out the wide variety of services that an employer could decline to provide, like child vaccinations and mammograms.

It’s true that all these services and more are threatened by this amendment. But are Republicans against child vaccinations and mammograms? I doubt it. So let’s admit what this debate is really and what Republicans really want to take away from millions of American women. It is contraception.

We should instead call this amendment for what it really is: for millions of women whose boss may have a personal objection, it is a contraception ban.

Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.