Shaheen, Menendez Urge State Department, USAID, to guarantee access to health services for female employees abroad

January 25, 2023

(Washington, DC) – US Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a senior member and the only woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Calling on the Biden administration to guarantee women employees at the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) access to adequate health services, including reproductive health care and sexual assault treatment. Following a letter from over 200 Foreign Service officials expressing serious concern that individuals are being consistently denied access to rape kits, family planning services, including emergency contraception and medical abortion, and access to obstetricians, gynecologists and other trained professionals, Senators urged both agencies to update their policies and procedures that govern operations, including codifying the right to reproductive health care in the Foreign Affairs Handbook.

“In the first National Strategy for Gender Justice and Equality, the Biden administration asserted, ‘Healthcare is a right, not a privilege. All people deserve access to quality, affordable health care…we will…promote access to sexual and reproductive health and rights at home and abroad.” We are struggling to reconcile the vision of the National Strategy with the experience of women, who work for the State Department and USAID, who are being asked to implement the important goals of this strategy and yet do not have access to adequate reproductive health care themselves.” the senators wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and USAID Administrator Samantha Power. “We urge you to take immediate action to implement the policies outlined in this strategy…. It is critical—both to their well-being and to the mission of these agencies—that women State Department and USAID employees have access to adequate health care.”

The senators recognized the agencies’ establishment of a women’s health task force and urged additional information on the State Department’s and USAID’s efforts to address lingering concerns, including the pledge of new resources to correct workers’ unequal access to health services abroad.

The full text of the letter can be found here.

Senator Shaheen is a relentless advocate for women’s reproductive rights. She has long prioritized access to comprehensive reproductive health care for servicewomen. As a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Shaheen introduced a Fiscal Year 2023 amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to enshrine service members’ rights to access protected leave for abortion treatments and services. Shaheen held a press conference with the delegation from New Hampshire and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England to discuss what is at stake for women’s freedoms and reproductive health with the New England upheaval Roe v. calf, and she spoke in the Senate to urge the legislature to vote for laws that would codify roe. For years, Shaheen has fought to expand preventive coverage for women, including through her legislation to reduce the cost of contraception for servicewomen and members of military families. She also wrote an op-ed for the Union Leader, addressing the threat to women’s freedoms and rights in a post-roe America. It can be read in full here.

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