For Sen. Tom Harkin's family, preventive health care could have been the difference between life and death.
Harkin lost two sisters to breast cancer within two years, he tearily recounted in remarkably personal remarks at a press conference Tuesday, held to celebrate a provision of the Affordable Care Act giving women access to preventive health services, which went into effect today.
"They didn't have any money. They didn't really have health care coverage. When my older sister Marianne died and we went to her funeral, her younger sister Silvia was there and had no idea that she also had breast cancer. Within two years, she was dead also. And they left young families."
The new rules give 47 million American woman free access to cancer screenings, birth control, and breast-feeding tools.
Harkin, speaking to Politics Nation host Rev. Al Sharpton Wednesday night, passionately implored women to utilize the screenings.
"I'm sad to say it's not a unique story in America," Harkin said. So many family who have lost a sister, a mother, a wife, because they didn't get early checkups, they didn't get preventative health care. And now beginning today, they'll be to get that."
Women have been treated like second class citizens for years under the American health care system, Harkin said. "Today we've broken down a lot of those barriers, and said to women, get in early, get that physical check-up, get that cervical cancer screening."
Asked to explain Rep. Mike Kelly's remarks earlier Wednesday comparing the ACA's birth control rule to Pearl Harbor and September 11th, Harkin slammed Republicans for their views their "adherence to this rigid ideology."
He added: "It's made their hearts rigid, it's made their hearts harder. That's not befitting a just society like America."