On Tuesday, Tom Price, President Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, went before the Senate Finance Committee to answer questions about contraception, abortion, and his trading of healthcare and pharmaceutical stocks while introducing legislation that could benefit his investments.
When asked by Senator Brown if he would protect the ability of women to access the contraception of their choice without co-pay, Price skirted around the question by saying women should be able to purchase the contraception of their choice, despite having co-sponsored legislation that would have made some forms of birth control illegal.
In 2012, when asked what he would say to low-income women who couldn’t afford birth control if it wasn’t covered by their health insurance, Price replied, “Bring me one woman who has been left behind. Bring me one. There’s not one. The fact of the matter is, this is a trampling of religious freedom and religious liberty in this country.”
At one point in the hearing, Senator Menendez challenged Price to state on the record his position on public health facts such as, “Do vaccines cause autism?” and “Do abortions cause breast cancer?” While Price correctly answered “no” to both, he is a member of the anti-choice Association of American Physicians and Surgeons that promotes the unsubstantiated link between abortion and breast cancer.
“You’re going to lead a department where science, not alternate universes of people’s views, is going to be central to a trillion dollar budget and the health of the nation,” said Menendez. States such as Texas are notorious for requiring women seeking abortions to read state produced booklets filled with factual inaccuracies and falsehoods, including the debunked claim that abortion is linked to increased rates of breast cancer. Texas’ booklet also states that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks, a false claim off which Price has introduced multiple 20-week abortion bans in the House.
In the hearing, Senator Cardin mentioned Trump’s reinstatement and expansion of the Global Gag Rule, asking Price how he intended to help the United States participate in global health programs to address HIV/AIDS and Zika if the Gag Rule was enforced. Price essentially responded that he would figure it out once confirmed.
The Global Gag Rule bans non-governmental organizations overseas that receive U.S. family planning and reproductive health funding from providing or distributing information about abortions, even using funding from non-U.S. government sources. Trump took the measure a step further, expanding it to include global health assistance programs across all departments and agencies, impacting over $9 billion in funding to a range of health organizations.
Senator Wyden questioned Price over his ethics concerning legislation he introduced after purchasing at a discounted price over 400,000 shares of stock in an Australian pharmaceutical company. A background investigation by the Finance Committee found that Price had under-valued those investments and “claimed income tax deductions that he could not substantiate.” Senator Wyden stated, “It’s hard to see how this can be anything but a conflict of interest and an abuse of his position.”
In his second round of questioning, Senator Wyden asked Price what he would do to help the 400,000 women who the Congressional Budget Office says will lose access to care in the first year after Planned Parenthood is defunded. Price, who has repeatedly voted to defund Planned Parenthood, rejected the data from the non-partisan office because they looked at the situation in a “silo.” While he didn’t provide an answer for how those disenfranchised women would access healthcare, conservatives often point to community clinics, though research shows that they are insufficient for filling in the gaps left by defunding Planned Parenthood.
House Republicans have promised to defund Planned Parenthood in their upcoming budget reconciliation bill. Planned Parenthood provides healthcare services to 2.5 million people every year, and estimates that 80 percent of those services are to prevent unintended pregnancies. They receive over $500 million in Medicaid reimbursements from the federal government each year, none of which is used to pay for abortion services as that would be a violation of the Hyde Amendment, a rule typically included in the annual appropriations bill.
Yesterday, the House approved a bill that attempts to block all women from accessing health insurance that covers abortion care. H.R. 7, known as the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, codifies as law the Hyde Amendment, which denies abortion coverage to the over 28 million women who receive their health insurance through federal programs, such as federal employees, Native Americans, veterans, federal prisoners, and the one in six women of reproductive age who are enrolled in Medicaid.
Media Resources: Feminist Majority Foundation 1/6/17, 1/24/17, 12/7/16, 1/24/17; Rewire 1/24/17; New York Times 1/24/17;