On Thursday, a trio of female senators announced the introduction of an ambitious piece of pro-choice legislation to safeguard access to women’s health services as some members of Congress attempt to turn back the clock.
The new “21st Century Women’s Health Act” — sponsored by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) — seeks to build on the recent progress under the Affordable Care Act by ensuring that all women have the maternity coverage, family planning services, and rape crisis tools they need. The legislation is endorsed by Planned Parenthood.
On a press call with reporters, Murray said that women are at a “critical moment” when it comes to their reproductive health. On one hand, Obamacare has taken some important steps forward to make gender-based services more affordable across the country. But on the other hand, relentless legislative attacks on both the state and federal levels have compromised women’s right to make decisions about their own health care.
“We absolutely can’t get complacent about the gains we’ve made so far,” the Washington lawmaker said. “As we continue to fight back against those who miss the Mad Men era, the 21st Century Women’s Health Act lays out important ways we can and should move forward on women’s health.”
Under Murray’s proposed legislation, states would be required to provide rape survivors with access to emergency contraception. A new research committee would review the harmful effect of anti-abortion laws that limit access to clinics. And the women’s health protections under Obamacare would be strengthened by the appointment of a new ombudsperson role to oversee the implementation of those provisions, the creation of a database to collect reports of women being erroneously charged for preventative services that are supposed to be free, and the expansion of contraceptive services to women on Medicaid.
Over the past several years, after decades of playing defense on reproductive rights, Democratic lawmakers have started to make a push toward a more proactive strategy to improve women’s health. In 2013, a group of progressive senators introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act to prevent states from enacting more medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion. In 2014, state lawmakers across the country introduced more than 70 bills to protect reproductive rights — more pro-choice measures than in any session in the past several decades.
Murray’s, Milkulski’s, and Boxer’s home states have been on the forefront of this shift. Last month, Washington State lawmakers introduced a reproductive health parity measure that would require insurance companies to cover abortion services alongside with maternity care. The Maryland legislature has routinely defeated efforts to restrict later abortions and is currently considering a bill to revoke parental rights from rapists. California has recently taken several steps forward to advance abortion rights, including expanding the pool of medical professionals who are allowed to perform the procedure and repealing unnecessary restrictions on women’s health clinics.
Although the 21st Century Women’s Health Act is unlikely to advance in a GOP-controlled Congress that has focused its attention on passing national abortion bans, it fits into the larger landscape of politicians going on record to support reproductive rights.
“Now, I know there are those who will say ‘no’ right off the bat,” Murray said in reference to her colleagues on the Hill. “And my message to them is: I’ve heard that before. It hasn’t stopped me.”