News Contraception

Congressional Pro-Choice Bill Would Expand Obamacare’s Women’s Health Gains

Emily Crockett

The 21st Century Women’s Health Act includes several provisions to both expand reproductive health-care access and improve research and public awareness on the topic.

Three Democratic women senators introduced an ambitious pro-choice bill on Thursday that aims to protect and build on the improvements to women’s health care made possible by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The 21st Century Women’s Health Act, introduced by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), has several provisions to both expand reproductive health-care access and improve research and public awareness on the topic.

“We’ve made so much progress when it comes to advancing women’s health and expanding access to reproductive care,” Murray said on a press call Thursday.

More needs to be done, she said, especially given the “laser-focused” attacks on women’s health by elected officials “who miss the Mad Men era.”

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Contraception access and awareness are major focuses of the bill. The ACA already requires private insurance companies to cover the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives—including methods like intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants that are more expensive up front but more effective in the long term.

Yet some women still face barriers to accessing the type of birth control that’s right for them. Women on Medicaid can’t always access the full range of contraceptive methods, or services like breast pumps and breast feeding counseling.

The new bill would address that by extending the ACA’s preventive care standards for these services to all Medicaid recipients. New grants for nurse practitioners in Title X family planning clinics who specialize in women’s health would also expand access to care for low-income women.

Then there’s the issue that one in 20 women has been denied health care due to the religious, moral, or personal objection of a health provider. That might include denial of coverage IUDs or emergency contraception that some wrongly believe to cause abortion.

To combat this inequity, the proposed legislation would create a “women’s health ombudsperson” to help enforce women’s health-care rights and combat misinformation from insurance companies or pharmacies.

It wouldn’t go as far as fixing the problems that have resulted from the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, though Murray said on the call that plans are in the works to reintroduce a bill that will do that.

The new bill would launch a public awareness campaign to educate women about their full rights and health-care benefits under the ACA, and it would create a database for women to inform the government when they are inappropriately charged a copay for birth control, as 11,000 CVS customers recently experienced.

The act also includes a requirement for all hospitals to provide rape victims with emergency contraception, which Murray has been trying to pass for years as stand-alone legislation.

Unlike another pro-choice bill in Congress, the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), the new bill doesn’t do much to combat the hundreds of state-level restrictions that have made it increasingly difficult for women to access abortion services. It does, however, mandate a study of the harmful effects of those laws, which have become commonplace is state legislatures controlled by Republicans.

The 21st Century Women’s Health Act is a “very nice complement” to the WHPA, said Dana Singiser, vice president for public policy and government at Planned Parenthood. While the WHPA forbids state laws that restrict health care services, this bill expands health services and addresses women’s immediate health care needs.

“I know there are those who will say ‘no’ right off the bat” to the bill in Congress, Murray said. “And my message to them is: I’ve heard that before. It hasn’t stopped me.”

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