As states move to enact hundreds of abortion restrictions, and fights over taxpayer funding for abortion derail bipartisan policy initiatives on Capitol Hill, it can be hard to see any progress in this area. But beyond the headlines, there’s a quiet effort underway to reclaim the conversation.
More lawmakers than ever before are standing up to fight for reproductive rights, helping to pioneer a growing state movement to push for proactive legislation to safeguard abortion access. After decades of playing defense on issues related to abortion, pro-choice politicians are starting to take a more aggressive approach.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, there was a noticeable shift in this area during the 2014 session, when “legislators quickly showed a clear interest in protecting or expanding access to sexual and reproductive health care.” Even in states like New York, where lawmakers have been split over advancing provisions related to abortion, there’s momentum toward working on other areas of gender equality and reproductive health care.
This year, that trend appears to be continuing:
This legislative session, Oregon lawmakers introduced a sweeping package of pro-choice legislation that would make the state the first in the country to ensure that every resident has coverage for abortion procedures under every form of insurance.
The Comprehensive Women’s Health Bill would require that all health insurance plans — including public plans like the Medicaid program — to cover the full range of reproductive health services, including birth control, abortion, prenatal care, childbirth, and breast-feeding support. The bill also requires pharmacies to dispense a 12-month supply of birth control at one time without any additional co-pays.
“As states across the country are stripping women of reproductive health services and coverage, Oregon is making strides to ensure that residents of our great state and their families all women and their families are healthy by providing a full range of reproductive health care, starting before she ever becomes pregnant and going through childbirth,” Michele Stranger Hunter, the executive director of the Oregon Foundation for Reproductive Health and NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, said in a statement encouraging the measure’s passage.
As a whole, Wisconsin is not a great state for abortion access. It has just a handful of clinics left, coupled with some of the harshest abortion restrictions in the nation. But local lawmakers are doing their part to make progress in this area.
This week, the city of Madison unanimously passed a resolution affirming that it’s critical to fund reproductive health care, noting that “federal and state laws that place obstacles in the paths of women seeking abortion care take away those women’s ability to make decisions and threaten the health of families.” The resolution concludes that insurance coverage for abortion should be restored for public employees and low-income women in the Medicaid program, and calls on Wisconsin state lawmakers to move forward in this area.
“In bringing forth this resolution, the Madison Common Council is taking a stand to say that the amount of money a woman has should not prohibit her from having an abortion,” Lisa Subeck, who serves on the city council, said in a statement. “This is not what Madison stands for. With this resolution we are saying it loud and clear: we will not look the other way.”
The Golden State is a pioneer in the state-level effort to expand reproductive rights. In 2013, it enacted the first state law since 2006 designed to protect, rather than attack, abortion access — taking an unprecedented step to expand the pool of abortion providers throughout California.
Since then, local lawmakers have continued to set an example. Last September, San Francisco became the first city in the country to take a stance against “sex-selective abortion bans,” after its Board of Supervisors voted to approve a resolution that prohibits this type of law from being enacted. This week, Oakland — where nearly 20 percent of the population is Asian American — followed suit. The city council there passed its own resolution denouncing sex-selective abortion bans.
This type of abortion restriction bans the practice of ending a pregnancy based on a fetus’ sex, and is based on harmful racial stereotypes that assume Asian American women don’t value daughters. “I am proud of the Oakland City Council for taking a stand today to say that policies like sex-selective abortion bans are dangerous, promote racial profiling of Asian Pacific Islander (API) women and don’t belong in our state,” Eveline Shen, the executive director of Forward Together, one of the reproductive justice groups that endorsed the resolution, said in a statement.
This month, lawmakers in Washington re-introduced a measure that would require insurers to achieve “reproductive parity” and offer coverage for abortion services alongside other types of common women’s health care.
Under the legislation, if insurance plans offer maternity coverage, they’ll also be mandated to cover abortion. Rep. Eileen Cody (D), who’s spearheading the measure, believes it will help ensure that decisions about ending a pregnancy aren’t dependent on “your employer or a health-insurance company” that previously had the power to decide not to cover abortion.
Like Oregon, the state is making unprecedented moves by proposing the mandatory insurance coverage of abortion. Although Obamacare took some steps to standardize coverage for preventative care like birth control services and cancer screenings, no state currently requires private insurance plans to cover abortion.