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“We need to fight back against those who miss that Mad Men era,” said Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) on a press call Thursday to introduce the 21st Century Women’s Health Act, which Murray brought to the Senate today along with co-sponsors Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA).
Murray emphasized how women’s health decisions should be made between a woman, her doctor, and, when applicable, her partner — and recognized how many of her colleagues in Congress feel otherwise and have made a concerted effort to intervene directly with women’s health, especially when it comes to abortion and birth control access.
The bill focuses on the following key components of women’s healthcare:
The Act would require all states to establish a “Maternal Mortality Review Committee” to address disparities in maternal mortality nationwide, to better assess the factors contributing to pregnancy-related and pregnancy-associated deaths so that policy and medical solutions can be implemented to ensure that all women are able to experience pregnancy as safely as possible.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) now requires all private insurance to cover FDA-approved forms of contraception. The 21st Century Women’s Health Act would ensure that those same measures are extended to women who are insured through Medicaid.
Support for Rape and Sexual Assault Survivors
The Act will ensure that all survivors of rape and sexual assault are provided with factual information about emergency contraception (EC) upon receiving treatment in an emergency room or hospital setting, and be provided with emergency contraception upon their request at no charge.
Presently, only 13 states and the District of Columbia require hospital emergency rooms to provide emergency contraception upon request to survivors of sexual assault. Additionally, nine states have enacted restrictions on emergency contraception, including six states that allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense emergency contraception.
It is estimated that 25,000 to 32,000 women become pregnant each year as a result of rape or incest. If used correctly, emergency contraception in conjunction with prompt medical treatment could help many of these rape survivors avoid the additional trauma of facing an unintended pregnancy.
A related provision would also support campus based sexual assault prevention educational programs and ensure access to EC at institutions of higher education.
Abortion and Reproductive Rights
The Act would require the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a study every 5 years on women’s health and report their findings to Congress, looking specifically at the impact of state laws that restrict access to abortion and geographic regions where access to family planning services is limited. The study will also report on economic impacts of such measures as well as the effect they have on pregnancy-related deaths.
Presently, 89 percent of counties nationally lack abortion clinics, and hundreds of laws have been passed at the state and federal level to restrict a women’s access to reproductive health services and family planning services.
Since the implementation of the ACA, all private insurance companies are required to cover birth control, breast pumps, breast feeding support services, as well as well-woman exams, cancer screenings, and treatment and testing for sexually transmitted infections.
The 21st Century Women’s Health Act will ensure that all women, both those with private insurance and Medicaid, have equal access to these services and comprehensive level of care. The legislation would strengthen Title X funding, providing additional support to clinics and health centers across the country that provide these services at little to no cost for American women who would otherwise be unable to access this care.
Additionally, this legislation would establish a three-year grant program for the training of nurse practitioners that specialize in women’s health care, helping to ensure a stronger health care workforce.
To ensure women are fully informed about their rights and health care options, the Act would launch a public awareness campaign among community-based organizations, pharmacists, providers and other stakeholders making sure that women have information and access to the services available to them.
Furthermore, The 21st Century Women’s Health Act would help ensure that women are not wrongly forced to pay more for health care services now covered under the Affordable Care Act by creating a reporting database for women to inform Health and Human Services of inappropriate charges.
Though the bill was just introduced today, Murray said that she and her co-sponsors will be seeking additional co-sponsors and are “confident” that they will receive “bipartisan support” of the legislation, and that “colleagues on both side of the aisle” will recognize its importance and sign on with their support.
Dana Singiser, Vice President for Public Policy and Government Affairs, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, voiced Planned Parenthood’s support of the new bill, noting that will there has been significant progress for women’s health in recent years (from the teen pregnancy rate dropping to historically low levels, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and its many benefits to women including the more than 48 million women nationally who can now access birth control without any co-pay), the 21st Century Women’s Health Act will continue to push progress for women’s healthcare forward.
Singiser also called attention to the fact that since birth control has become legal, women have become the majority of undergraduate students and holders of graduate degrees. She noted that there is now an expectation among young women embarking on higher education that safe and legal abortion and birth control will be available to them, and that unplanned pregnancy should never be a deterrent in their educations or future careers.