September 15, 2022

Chairman Takano: “Today’s hearing also offers us an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of 'freedom.'”

"Women veterans have worn the uniform of our country with pride, and that is why it is an insult to their service that they would be denied from making the most personal choices about their bodies and their lives."

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Daniel Santa Cruz (202) 603-1929

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HVAC) Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) delivered opening remarks at the Full Committee hearing entitled, "Examining women veterans' access to the full spectrum of medical care, including reproductive healthcare, through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA)." 
Chairman Takano delivers remarksView Chairman Takano's remarks here.
Chairman Takano’s remarks as prepared:  Over the last several years, we have often cited women as the fastest-growing cohort among veterans.  Our hearing today will examine women veterans’ access to the full spectrum of medical care, including reproductive healthcare, through the Veterans Health Administration. Today’s hearing also offers us an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of “freedom.”   Since the days of the Revolutionary War, women veterans have signed up to fight for and defend our country’s founding idea of freedom. That’s why they served, and that’s why they continue to serve. But listen closely to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle today. It will be abundantly clear—women veterans’ freedom to make choices that are best for their own personal health, and medical providers’ freedom to exercise their clinical judgment—are under attack. Pay attention, too, to the kind of legislation they support. They are so extreme that all but one of our Republican colleagues on this Committee have co-sponsored H.R. 1011, a bill that would criminalize women’s healthcare.  It would effectively negate women’s bodily autonomy once a sperm meets an egg—with no exceptions. The practical effect of this is that women’s healthcare choices become murder, and they have no right to pursue lifesaving cancer treatments or use IUDs or emergency contraception. It also takes away the choice of women to pursue science-based family-building treatments, such as in vitro fertilization.    Since the Dobbs decision, we have seen a stark contrast between those who claim to be pro-life and those who actually want to defend life, the freedom to choose, and the freedom to respect the right to privacy. Women veterans have worn the uniform of our country with pride, and that is why it is an insult to their service that they would be denied from making the most personal choices about their bodies and their lives. In reflecting on the effect of the recent Supreme Court decision, one of the witnesses on our second panel said in their written testimony, quote, “The moral injury of having served a country to protect our Constitution that no longer protected me and the ones I love was, and still is, absolutely devastating.” Fortunately, President Biden and Secretary McDonough are taking bold action to avert imminent and future harm to veterans by restoring certain reproductive healthcare freedoms that were eliminated in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent decision.  Six days ago, VA published an interim final rule that removes its longstanding prohibition on abortion counseling and authorizes VA medical facilities to furnish abortions in cases of rape, incest, and health of the woman. This ruling is a strong first step that finally puts VA on par with all other federal healthcare programs. This rule will also promote better equity between the men and women who receive care at VA by removing the gag order on what doctors can discuss with their women patients. No such gag order has ever existed for men, and it is unacceptable that it should be exercised against women veterans who served alongside their brothers in arms and deserve the full care they have earned and need. But most importantly, this rule will save women’s lives and protect their health.  For decades, VA providers have had to call in favors in the community to procure lifesaving abortion care for women. Before this IFR, pregnant veterans with life-threatening pregnancy complications were turned away. But in the wake of Dobbs, abortion bans have been triggered in multiple states, and community care is no longer an option.  Now, VA can provide the abortion care necessary to save veterans’ lives when their communities and states won’t. VA came to this decision after listening to VA healthcare providers and veterans across the country.  Congress needs to listen to veterans and providers too. Over the last several weeks, I and Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Brownley, along with several colleagues (including fellow committee members, Colin Allred and Ruben Gallego) have been doing just that.  Since early August, we have traveled with our staff to four different states and the Navajo Nation.  We drove more than 1,600 miles, visited six different VA medical facilities, and conducted seven listening sessions to hear from women in each location about their experiences at VA.  I came away from these visits enlightened about the challenges VA is currently facing and awestruck by the determination and strength of women veterans.  We met with clinical care teams and Women Veterans Program Managers—like Stephanie in Oklahoma City; Ann in Temple, Texas; Cindy in Las Vegas; and Pat in Phoenix—VA employees who are serving veterans in creative ways, spending many hours doing outreach, and thinking of new ways to show women veterans that VA is a place for them.  We have seen what leading in women’s healthcare means, including at VA facilities with dedicated women’s clinics with separate entrances, lactation facilities, integrated mental healthcare, and an overall experience designed and delivered for women veterans’ unique needs. I will tell you that among the VA providers and women veterans I met with last week, the news of the Secretary’s recent regulatory action was met with approval, applause, and hope.  We asked, and they answered, unequivocally— women veterans want VA to provide the full spectrum of care, where they are fully informed partners in their own healthcare decisions.  There was applause at VA finally joining other federal healthcare programs in providing life-saving reproductive care, and hope that this critical step is a sign VA is ready to truly welcome women veterans and really provide that full spectrum of care.  After one listening session with women veterans last week, a young veteran named Jessica shared her reaction: “I felt seen, I felt heard, and I feel hopeful for the future of women’s healthcare at VA.”  We have also been fielding an online survey to hear from veterans across the country about their experiences receiving reproductive healthcare, contraceptive care, and infertility treatment at VA.  As of this week, we have received over 450 responses from veterans, the overwhelming majority of whom support VA providing abortion counseling and abortion care, in circumstances like those covered by the Secretary’s new regulation.  So far, 90 percent of survey respondents have said VA should provide abortion counseling, and 73 percent of respondents said VA should “always” or “sometimes” provide abortion care. This survey is still live on the Committee’s website, and I encourage any veteran who has tried to access reproductive healthcare at VA to complete it. Visit and click the button at the top to share your story. Your responses will remain anonymous if you wish them to be. I want to thank Secretary McDonough and President Biden for their courageous and strong regulatory action that will save women’s lives. I look forward to working with the Secretary to ensure VA has everything it needs to implement this rule successfully. I know much more needs to be done to improve women veterans’ experiences at VA, and I see the implementation of this rule as a “big leap moment” for the Department. If implemented well, I have hope this will even attract more providers to practice at VA, and more women veterans to seek care at VA. This is an opportunity to improve the whole spectrum of healthcare for women veterans.  Indeed, while I heard a lot of hope in my conversations with women veterans last week, there was also frustration about long-standing challenges.  A majority of women’s care is sent out to the community.  Caseloads for women’s care coordinators make it difficult for women veterans to reach their providers and get scheduled for appointments in a timely manner. Some VA primary care providers are not as well-trained or as committed as they should be in caring for women.  Deficiencies in privacy and anti-harassment measures still exist within VA facilities.  However, these are all challenges that can be addressed if we collectively commit to doing so. In Phoenix alone, over 11,000 women have chosen to receive their care at VA. This is a truly astounding and laudable number. It means that we owe those 11,000 women the best experience possible and the healthcare they have earned and deserve. I am pleased the newly confirmed Under Secretary for Health, Dr. Shereef Elnahal, is appearing before this Committee today so that we can discuss with him and other leaders on the panel how VHA can truly put a plan into action that will serve women veterans.  We will also hear directly from veterans and women’s health providers about their experiences so we can learn more about VA’s challenges and develop ways to address them. Women veterans have served this country. It is past time for us to do right by their service. They are watching today and listening to what we all have to say. They are listening closely to who wants to deny them the most basic respect and autonomy, and who wants to support the freedom they fought for.