‘Birth control is healthcare’: Democratic reps call for legislation to ensure access to contraception

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Democratic State Reps. Leanne Krueger, Kevin Boyle, and Tina Davis say access to birth control is a right — not a privilege.

They slammed the Trump administration for its efforts to curtail equitable contraceptive coverage during COVID-19, arguing that such measures disproportionately impact women of color, and urged the Pennsylvania Legislature to prioritize the passage of a bill that would ensure insurance coverage for birth control drugs, devices, and other products.

“So many women are afraid these days in the wake of the Supreme Court decision and the Supreme Court nomination, and we need to protect them here in Pennsylvania,” Krueger, D-Delaware, said during a press conference with advocates and allies earlier this week.

The U.S. Senate confirmed Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s nominee, to the Supreme Court on Monday, the New York Times reported.

Krueger, Boyle, of Philadelphia,  and Davis, of Bucks County, are co-sponsoring the bill to counter a July U.S.. Supreme Court decision that allowed employers with religious and moral objections to limit women’s access to birth control by opting out of the Affordable Care Act mandate to provide no-cost contraceptive coverage, the Times reported. 

The bill amends the Insurance Company Law of 1921 by adding a section to expand and protect contraceptive access in the wake of this federal regulation.

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“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 and to get into state law,” Krueger said. “Each year, approximately 2,800,000 women face an unintended pregnancy, representing nearly half of all of the pregnancies in the United States in 2014 alone. 40 percent of all pregnancies in Pennsylvania were unintended.” 

Contraception reduces the rate of unintended pregnancies, which leads to an improvement in women’s health, fewer instances of infant mortality, and reduces the need for abortions, Kreuger said, adding that it is a “goal that I believe our colleagues on the other side of the aisle would also share.”

Currently, 30 states require insurance plans to cover contraception but Pennsylvania is not one of them, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. “With the federal government letting us down, we need action at the state level,” Krueger said, stressing that contraceptives also help treat various different reproductive disorders such as endometriosis. 

Boyle criticized the federal government’s move to strike down access to birth control on religious and moral grounds by calling it hypocritical. “I’m struck by that because many of these religious organizations like to talk about mortality. Me in regards to my own morality, I think that opposing poverty is one of the biggest moral things you could do,” Boyle said, pointing out that unwanted pregnancies are one of the biggest drivers of poverty. 

Women who carry an unwanted pregnancy to term are four times more likely to live below the federal poverty line, according to a 2018 study by the American Journal of Public Health

“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 added. 

Davis pointed out that low-income women of color bear the brunt of restrictive insurance policies because they are disproportionately susceptible to COVID-19. Pregnant women of color infected with COVID-19 are more likely to be hospitalized in intensive care units and receive mechanical ventilation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“The maternal mortality rate in Pennsylvania has doubled since 2004 and it disproportionately affects women of color and black women. Black women make up 11 percent of the women in Pennsylvania and yet account for 31 percent of all pregnancy-related deaths,” said Tara Murtha, director of strategic communications at the Women’s Law Project. Murtha denounced federal regulations limiting contraception access by calling them “cruel” and “anti-science.”

Krueger pledged to continue pushing for the legislation to pass before the current legislative session ends on Nov. 30.

“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,” she said. “And I hope that our Republican colleagues see that the value in what we are trying to promote, we always hear about the issue of abortion from them. without access to birth control, you will only have an increased abortion rate so they should be one of the biggest proponents of this legislation.

Rjaa Ahmed is a Hearken Election SOS Fellow who is helping the Capital-Star cover the 2020 election. Follow her on Twitter @rjaaaaaaaaa.