New Year, New Legislation Supporting Abortion Rights

17 Jan

It’s easy to feel disheartened by the number of anti-choice laws, ballot initiatives, and court cases sweeping the country.  In 2013, 22 states enacted 70 abortion restrictions and everyday it feels like there is another major news story on how our reproductive rights are being restricted. With the start of a new year, there have been a flurry of articles arguing that 2014 could be a make or break it year for reproductive rights. In a lot of ways, 2014 already feels reminiscent to the restrictions we saw in 2013. This week the Judiciary Committee in the House of Representatives passed HR 7,  to prohibit taxpayer funded abortions, and the Supreme Court is hearing cases on the contraception mandate and the buffer zone surrounding abortion clinics. But in exciting news, we are also seeing new state legislation that would actually protect abortion rights! Here are some important bills for you to keep an eye on:

Washington’s Reproductive Parity Act

Currently abortion coverage varies greatly by insurance carriers and by state, and since the ACA requires that no federal funds can be used to cover abortion services, coverage is even harder to come by in the health exchanges. In a direct response to this ACA requirement, the Washington state legislature introduced a bill that would require all insurance policies that cover maternity care to also cover abortion services. This bill would not only increase access to covered abortion services but also make sure that abortion coverage would not be affected even by the ACA abortion provisions.

New York’s Women’s Equality Act

This 10 point plan was first introduced last year but failed to pass during the legislative session. Governor Cuomo recently re-announced his support for The Women’s Equality Act which addresses a number of important equality issues including equal pay, sexual harassment, and trafficking. In terms of abortion policy, this bill would codify Roe v. Wade into state law and ensure abortion access up to 24 weeks or when necessary to protect the life or health of a pregnant person (currently it only includes exceptions when a pregnant persons’ life is in danger).

New Hampshire’s Abortion Clinic Buffer Zone Bill

Similar to the Massachusetts’s law currently being debated in the Supreme Court, SB319 would establish a buffer zone around abortion clinics. By establishing a 25 foot buffer zone, this bill hopes to help protect patients from harassment and intimidation from protestors.

Vermont’s Bill to Decriminalize Abortion

Bill S315 was introduced last week to decriminalize abortion in the state. While abortion is legal in Vermont, there are old laws that criminalize performing and advertising abortion services. As a result, this would law would officially recognize a persons’ right to have an abortion in the state of Vermont.

The Women’s Health Protection Act 

While this isn’t an example of state legislation, it is an exciting development in Congress. In 2013, the Senate introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act that would prohibit states from passing TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws. This law would make it illegal for states to pass laws impeding access to abortion services including building standards for abortion clinics, and mandatory ultrasound laws.

All of this legislation is still in the beginning of stages, but it is nonetheless an exciting step in the right direction. But why does this matter when Vermont, New Hampshire, Washington and New York already protect a person’s right to choose and there are so many other states that are restricting abortion services? Because it’s about the message it’s sending. Of course, ideally we want to be seeing this type of legislation introduced in states where people face significant barriers to accessing abortion services. But seeing efforts to protect abortion access is a huge deal and what I believe is an important part of changing the conversation about abortion policy. Since 2010, we have been bombarded with abortion restrictions and examples of our reproductive rights being threatened. While there have been victories in defeating ballot initiatives and court cases, and important community organizing and activism, at the legislative level we have mostly been on the defensive. It’s shocking to think that the last time Congress passed proactive abortion legislation was in 1994 with the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act! Seeing legislation introduced that protects the right to choose allows us to be on the offensive, gives us time to talk about why these issues matter and engage with communities and lawmakers. But most importantly, this type of legislation shows that no matter the number of anti-choice laws introduced, we are not done fighting.

So thank you Vermont, Washington, New Hampshire, New York and to all those supporting the Women’s Health Protection Act for bringing us some much needed positive news. Here’s to hoping 2014 is a year filled with a lot more of it.

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