Ever since Amy Coney Barrett was nominated by President Donald Trump to fill the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, many Americans vocalized their fears that the Catholic conservative’s appointment would overturn historic laws, including Roe v. Wade – the 1973 decision that legalized abortion.
Although Coney Barrett has stated she won’t let her pro-life views influence her rulings, many – including a group of local lawmakers – don’t believe her.
On Aug. 21, state Reps. Tina Davis (D-Bucks), Leanne Krueger (D-Delaware) and Kevin Boyle (D-Montgomery/Phila.) introduced H.B. 2813, which seeks to ensure Pennsylvanians have equitable access to birth control. The bill was penned following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows employers to be exempt from Affordable Care Act mandates to include contraceptives on company healthcare plans if it goes against religious or moral values.
“There have been a number of movements on the federal level that have led us to believe that this is a very important piece of legislation to get into state law, and that is our intent,” said Krueger during a virtual news conference on Oct. 28.
According to her, each year, over 2 million women experience an unintended pregnancy.
“In 2014 alone, 40 percent of all pregnancies in Pennsylvania were unintended,” she said. “By reducing the rates of unintended pregnancies, contraception improves a woman’s health and wellbeing, reduces infant morbidity and mortality, and reduces the need for abortion – a goal that I believe our colleagues on the other side of the aisle would also share.”
While the Affordable Care Act made contraceptive coverage a national policy, Krueger said there were gaps in this coverage. By 2018, 30 states and the District of Columbia adopted laws that required state-regulated insurance plans to cover contraceptives. Pennsylvania is not yet one of them.
On Oct. 5, 2017, the federal government proposed new rules under the ACA, allowing private employers and educational institutions that do not agree with the use of contraceptives to be exempt from the contraceptive requirement.
“In 2018, the federal government finalized rules that are substantially identical to those proposed in October 2017,” said Krueger. “The new rules leave 2,500,000 women in Pennsylvania without equitable and affordable access to contraception. Without the ability to control their reproductive futures, it will adversely affect their health and wellbeing.”
Krueger explained how contraception is used for more than birth control. For example, she takes it to treat endometriosis.
“Contraception is part of women’s healthcare,” echoed Davis. “No insurance company should decide who gets contraception and who doesn’t.”
Davis is pushing for the bill to become law during COVID-19. She said low-income women, especially those of color, have been forced to shoulder frontline jobs to make ends meet. Doing so while pregnant would significantly increase their health risks.
“Data on pregnancy from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that pregnant women with COVID-19 are at greater risk for severe illness that requires hospitalization and intensive care unit admission,” she said. “Of all the times for this to be important, we need to look at it now, especially after what the Supreme Court just did.”
Boyle said he’s “struck by the irony” of religious organizations opposing the bill.
“I think opposing poverty is one of the biggest moral things you can do, and that’s why you should support this bill. All the evidence, all the studies demonstrate that unplanned pregnancies are one of the biggest drivers of poverty not just for women, but for men,” he explained. “Without access to birth control, you will only increase the poverty rate in America.”
He cited health as another reason to support H.B. 2813, and used his grandmother as an example. A devout Catholic who did not believe in birth control, she had 11 children, suffered multiple miscarriages and died fairly young.
“It’s 2020. I think that some of the organizations like the Catholic Church who oppose legislation like this need to wake up to the reality of what their position actually causes for women and families,” Boyle said. “I hope our Republican colleagues see the value in what we’re trying to promote. We always hear about the issue of abortion from them. Without access to birth control, you’ll only have an increased abortion rate.”
When drafting the bill, the legislators worked closely with several advocates, including Women’s Law Project, Planned Parenthood, Access Matters, ACLU and New Voices.
Present during the conference was Signe Espinoza, director of policy at Planned Parenthood.
“We are very fortunate to have leaders who step up when the Trump administration denies access to basic healthcare,” she said. “Millions of people from all walks of life stand to benefit from this bill. Birth control benefits the young person finishing college or starting a new career. It benefits the families struggling to make ends meet. It benefits the person struggling with endometriosis. And it benefits families who plan to have children when they feel ready. We know that every method is not right for every person, and this bill recognizes that fact.”
If no action is taken on H.B. 2813 before the legislative calendar ends Nov. 30, Krueger said it will be introduced early in the next legislative session.
“It is time for Pennsylvania to take action. In the wake of the new U.S. Supreme Court and the fact that oral arguments on the Affordable Care Act start a week after Election Day, now more than ever, we need state legislation to protect access to healthcare, and to protect women’s health, as well,” she said. “So many women are afraid these days in the wake of the Supreme Court decision and the Supreme Court nomination. We need to protect them here in Pennsylvania. We will always fight for them.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org