Senator Mazie Hirono recently underwent surgery to remove a lesion from her rib as a part of her battle against stage four kidney cancer. But, as she went into that battle, Senator Hirono was also waging another battle: against Senate GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA has been a game-changer for women’s health—opening the door to unprecedented access to the health care that women need, like preventive care.
Diagnosed with kidney cancer in May, Senator Hirono announced her intent to fight Trumpcare “tooth and nail” in early June. Although it may seem as though we have been fighting against different iterations of attacks on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for a very long time, the last few months have been characterized by increasingly partisan debate about repeal. The confrontation in Congress came to a crescendo on the Senate floor in the late night/early morning hours today.
Throughout the process, Senator Hirono has continued to be a champion for access to health care. While balancing cancer treatment and work obligations, Senator Hirono has still made the time to speak at rallies to protect health care for millions of Americans. Her experience battling cancer has only further solidified her work to protect health care. She recently stated, “I was diagnosed with stage-four kidney cancer only three months or so ago. And that’s why it is so true that all of us are just one diagnosis away from a major illness. And I’m glad that we caught my cancer early enough before it went to other parts of my body and that I could concentrate, because I had insurance, on appropriate care as opposed to worrying about how the heck I’m going to pay for the care that I needed to save my life.”
However, she has not received the credit she deserves. On Tuesday, when the Senate voted to proceed to an ACA repeal bill, Senator John McCain, who has also recently been diagnosed with cancer, entered the Senate chambers to a standing ovation. Despite the celebration, he cast a critical vote that narrowly advanced the Senate GOP effort towards a repeal vote.
Although Senator Hirono stood strong and opposed moving towards repeal, she did not receive the same level of celebration or appreciation for her work. While Senator McCain was lauded as a hero, she went unrecognized.
This troubled me, so I took to Twitter to vent. Like many women of color, Senator Hirono was expected to remain invisible, to stay in her place, and to remain strong and quiet no matter what she was facing personally. But, she did not stay quiet.
As the clock neared midnight, the Senate GOP leadership hastily posted a so-called “Skinny Repeal” bill that would have eliminated the ACA’s individual and employer mandates and targeted Planned Parenthood for loss of vital federal funds. The bill, deceptively labeled the “Health Care Freedom Act,” could have left millions captive to medical debt and lack of access to affordable and accessible health providers.
But, shortly before final votes took place, Senator Hirono took to the Senate floor to make an impassioned plea to her colleagues to act with courage and compassion. Her speech moved me and many others last night.
Senator Hirono’s courage and dedication to the people of this nation are not what is grabbing headlines today. While many contributed to this fight, Senator Hirono’s dedication to health care access for millions of Americans has never wavered, even though she has rarely received the credit she deserves.
Even as a woman of color working in the reproductive health field, I did not fully reflect on Senator Hirono’s demonstration of strength until after the initial vote on advancing to the bill was over. As women of color, we are told again and again that our struggles and our voices are not a priority, even though we often have the most to lose when it comes to attacks on health care. But, Senator Hirono made her voice heard—particularly last night.
For this, and for many other reasons, Senator Hirono deserves a standing ovation. She made the health and well-being of Americans a key priority while quietly fighting for her own health battle. Senator Hirono, this one is for you.