California Bucks The National Trend, Protects Coverage For Birth Control And Abortion

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As legislators around the country try to figure out what the recent Hobby Lobby decision means for their constituents’ birth control access, as well as continue to find ways to make it harder to get an abortion, lawmakers in California are taking the opposite approach. The Golden State has recently taken several steps toward strengthening insurance coverage for reproductive health services.

On Friday, health department officials in California determined that insurance companies in the state can’t refuse to cover abortion, ensuring that even the people who are employed at religiously-affiliated colleges won’t have to worry about losing access to coverage for those services. The announcement came after two Catholic institutions, Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University, decided to drop coverage for elective abortions for more than 2,000 employees. Since California law requires insurers to cover both abortion services and maternity care as equal aspects of women’s health care, the state stepped in, reminding the colleges that the state’s insurance providers are prohibited from “discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy.”

The decision was widely hailed as a victory for abortion rights. “The move by the Department of Managed Health Care is one of the strongest statements in favor of women’s reproductive health rights you’re likely to hear from officials of any state, at a time when those rights are under systematic attack,” a recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times noted.

And that’s not all. Also at the end of last week, the California legislature approved the Contraceptive Coverage Equity Act, a measure that strengthens the coverage for FDA-approved birth control methods under Obamacare. It now heads to the governor, who is expected to sign it.

While California has had a law on the books since 1999 that requires health insurers to cover contraception along with other prescription drugs, the new measure goes even further to ensure that women will be able to select the birth control method of their choice without being required to try other methods first. “Medical management techniques that create barriers to particular methods deprive women of their reproductive freedom, increase their risk of unintended pregnancy and disproportionately impact low-income women,” California Sen. Holly J. Mitchell (D), who introduced the legislation, said in a press release after her bill’s passage.

California has long been pursuing an agenda that’s particularly friendly to reproductive rights. Last fall, Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) signed two pieces of legislation — one that widened the pool of medical professionals allowed to perform abortions, and another that removed unnecessary restrictions on abortion clinics — to set his state on a very different path than the rest of the country.

Meanwhile, in other states, lawmakers are eliminating insurance coverage for abortion and forcing abortion clinics to close. This type of legislation has effectively created an artificial division between certain types of reproductive health care and the rest of women’s medical services. It’s also undermined efforts to keep the health care system free from junk science; abortion restrictions that aren’t based in science or medicine are now in place in the majority of the country.