HHS secretary visits Connecticut Planned Parenthood
Waterbury — Yet another member of President Joe Biden’s cabinet came to Connecticut on Tuesday and held up the state as an example of hope for those bemoaning the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Following a roundtable discussion with reproductive health care providers and clients at a Planned Parenthood facility in Waterbury, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District and Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, and others offered statements and took questions from the news media on the issue of abortion.
Amanda Skinner, president of Planned Parenthood Southern New England, said the organization is “devastated” and “heartbroken” by the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, adding, “We’re ready to fight like hell.”
“Abortion remains legal here in Connecticut, our Planned Parenthood health centers are open, and we are here to provide abortion care no matter what,” Skinner said. “Even more people are going to have to overcome unnecessary barriers to accessing essential health care, and we know for some patients, those barriers will be insurmountable. We know that abortion bans disproportionately harm Black women, Latino people, indigenous people, other people of color, people who have low incomes, and people who live in rural communities, all because of this country’s legacy of racism and discrimination.”
Skinner added that the court’s decision is about more than abortion, “It’s about control.”
Hayes said she invited Becerra to Waterbury “because I wanted him to hear firsthand from the people in this community who receive services here, health care services, reproductive health services, preventive health care services, and understand and appreciate how important it is that we protect access and affordability to care.”
Blumenthal said the country needs pro-choice legislators, “and we need to make this issue a ballot box issue come November.”
He said he and other senators are urging the president to take action using his executive powers not only to declare a public health emergency but to use federal land for abortion clinics in states where the practice is now banned. Biden has also called for a temporary suspension of the filibuster in order to codify the Roe decision.
Becerra opened his remarks during the news conference by saying he hopes people in Connecticut “understand how fortunate you are to … have rights. Unfortunately, as of more than a week ago, not every American can say that today.”
Becerra made statements both symbolic and concrete in support of women’s right to choose on Tuesday.
“None of us are safe until all of us are safe. After the Supreme Court’s decision … no woman is safe until all women are safe. No woman is protected until all women are protected,” Becerra said. “HHS, we’re saying, we will respect and more importantly we will protect that freedom, that autonomy, that dignity, that every American grew up knowing. And it is our job to do everything we can, from protecting your privacy on health care information, to making sure we’re protecting your access to care, to protecting providers who provide you that access to care, to continuing to support family planning services.”
Becerra said the department has sat down with health insurers “to make sure that they understand that under federal law, they are obligated to provide certain preventative care services.”
Connecticut codified abortion rights in 1990, and just last month, Gov. Ned Lamont signed a law providing protections for people receiving and providing abortions. The law, which goes into effect July 1, also expands what medical providers can provide abortions. Blumenthal and Lamont both referred to the efforts of state representatives Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford, and Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, who were in attendance on Tuesday, in their efforts to lead ‘safe haven’ legislation this past legislative session.
Blumenthal praised the reproductive health care providers at Planned Parenthood and other facilities for continuing to do their work despite the national and everyday pressure against them.
“To the providers, to the doctors, the staffs and nurses, we tend to underappreciate how much courage it takes to stand up to some of the threats and intimidation they receive,” he said.
The history of threats against abortion providers was evidenced Tuesday by a significant police presence at the invite-only roundtable and news conference, as well as by the fact that the location of the event was hidden ahead of time.
Members of the Biden cabinet, as well as Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, have been frequent visitors to Connecticut, including Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who recently traveled to Waterford and New London. Biden has appointed two Connecticut natives, Miguel Cardona, education secretary, and Lynn Malerba, chief of the Mohegan Tribe and U.S. treasurer, to high positions in his administration.