Despite the federal government’s sustained plan to thwart women’s reproductive freedom, a new mid-year report from the National Institute for Reproductive Health (NIRH) reveals a welcome trend; since January, 49 states have introduced almost 600 pieces of legislation to protect and advance access to reproductive health care services.
NIRH President Andrea Miller points to positive and proactive developments even in states like Nevada and Maine, both led by Republican governors. Each has passed laws that mandate insurance companies cover the cost of all FDA-approved contraception. And in state governments under Democratic control, like Maryland, for example, bills have been introduced that would pony up state funds to support Planned Parenthood, if the federal government defunds it.
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“We’re in a moment where we know the federal government is working to overturn Roe v. Wade, to dismantle access to affordable health care, to defund Planned Parenthood, to reverse the no-copay for contraception [essential health care benefit], to deny family planning funds to clinics that provide abortions,” Miller says. “And yet, we have seen that states are…taking action to really counter that devastating trend at the national level.”
Of course, that’s not to suggest that states haven’t passed their fair share of anti-choice legislation. According to HuffPo, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas have all tried to deny Planned Parenthood government dollars. And Miller acknowledges that at least 379 anti-choice laws have passed in the United States since 2010. “But nonetheless,” she’s been heartened to see some states take steps to ensure if not access to abortion, then at least access to family planning and contraceptive services. “There is incredible opportunity,” Miller continues. “And we’re seeing advocates and policymakers at the state level really declare that enough is enough: ‘We are not going to stand by and let the federal government dictates women’s decisions. We are going to step into that breach and take care of our residents.'”
These women do not represent some niche statistic. And it does states no favors to dismiss their needs. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that at least 38 million women seek contraception because they’re sexually active and don’t want to be pregnant. And no matter what Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price suggested, they can’t all afford contraception. In 2014, a full 20 million of these 38 million women needed publicly funded services because their income fell below 250 percent of the federal poverty level or they were under 20. Guttmacher found that publicly funded family planning services from all sources in 2014 helped women avoid roughly two million unintended pregnancies; had they not had that access, the organization estimates that nearly one million women would have carried unintentional pregnancies to term and almost 700,000 would have had abortions.
“It’s essential that we push back against the attacks coming Washington, D.C.,” Miller says. “But it’s as important to make sure that people are reaching out to their elected officials at the state level and in their municipalities, because those are the people who have a direct and immediate opportunity to influence access to reproductive health care in communities nationwide.”
The latest NIRH research has determined that 80 bills or pieces of legislation were proposed in 26 states to ensure women be able to access abortion. Already, four states have implemented them—Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, and Oregon. “In terms of access to contraception services,” Miller says, “more than 90 bills were introduced, and six states and the District of Columbia have enacted some version of them that will improve access to contraception for residents.”
“When women and young people have access to reproductive health services, everyone thrives,” Miller says. “It means fewer unintended pregnancies and more women who can determine for themselves when they want to have children. It means that you’re not having to deal with these problems after the fact because you’ve denied people access to services that so fundamentally affect whether they can make decisions that shape their lives.”
The first six months of the Trump administration have witnessed the expansion of the global gag rule, which withholds U.S. dollars from health care providers around the world that so much as mention the word “abortion,” the rollback of Obama-era protections for Planned Parenthood, the leak of a rule that could, if implemented, deny hundreds of thousands of women access to birth control, and the rise of men like Secretary of Health and Human Services Price.
The moves have certainly had a trickle-down effect, empowering anti-choice politicians in states like Texas and Iowa to take unprecedented steps to defund Planned Parenthood, close clinics, and attempt to ban some of the safest abortion procedures available to women. But they’ve inspired a resistance at the state level that the new NIRH proves. 600 pieces of good news are nice, but proposed legislation is not enough. So the next time you can’t get through to your senators, dial your state representative. Make sure they know you have a uterus, and you vote.