The House Democratic Policy Committee convened a hearing in Delaware County, hosted by Rep. Leanne Krueger, to discuss the need to expand access to contraceptives for Pennsylvanians on Friday, May 12, 2023 (House Democratic Policy Committee photo).
Democratic state lawmakers met in Delaware County on Friday to discuss legislation that they and supporters say would expand access to contraceptives in Pennsylvania amidst a national fight over abortion access and reproductive rights.
Rep. Leanne Krueger, D-Delaware, hosted the House Democratic Policy Committee’s hearing. She announced in April that she would introduce a bill — HB 1140 — to expand access to contraceptives in Pennsylvania.
“Access to health care is inextricably linked to economic mobility, and basic preventative care like birth control should not be a luxury that is only available to some,” Krueger wrote in memo seeking legislative support. “As Legislators, we should be reducing barriers to health care, not creating more.”
The hearing comes as federal agencies mull whether to allow one oral contraceptive pill to be available for over-the-counter use.
Testifiers at Friday’s hearing laid out the importance of expanding access to contraceptives in Pennsylvania as demand continues to grow for pregnancy-prevention measures.
“While we are encouraged by recent recommendations to make oral contraceptives accessible over the counter, it is critical that we make clear Pennsylvania’s protections for all forms of contraceptive methods to ensure everyone has access to the method that works for their body and life,” Melissa Weiler Gerber, president and CEO of AccessMatters, a public health non-profit based in Philadelphia, said.
Gerber told lawmakers that since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson — the case that overturned Roe v. Wade — the organization has experienced an increase in calls about tubal ligations and vasectomies.
“In the wake of the Dobbs decision, we know contraceptive access is the new battleground,” Gerber said. “We hear about it every day from our colleagues across the country – the growing threat to the very legitimacy and legality of birth control – in 2023.”
Gerber said that Krueger’s proposed legislation to expand access to contraceptives “recognizes the comprehensive approach we need to take in [Pennsylvania] to ensure that access to care is protected.”
The bill would require insurers to inform dependents at the time of enrollment of their right to obtain confidential care without consent of a spouse or parent. It would also bar insurers from declining to cover contraceptive drugs or devices for reasons other than contraception, such as for the treatment of endometriosis or other conditions.
While many testifiers recognized the critical role the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), passed more than a decade ago, played in making contraceptives more accessible, they also noted its shortcomings, including its vulnerability to regulatory changes.
“Because of the frequent shifting of the ACA at the federal level, it is important that Pennsylvania adopt a comprehensive law setting forth clear provisions that respond to the contraceptive needs of of Pennsylvanians,” Terry Fromson, managing attorney at the Women’s Law Project, said.
Fromson also noted that people take contraceptives for reasons other than to prevent unintended pregnancies, including to decrease bleeding and pain with menstrual periods, reduce risk of gynecologic disorders, endometriosis, and pelvic inflammatory disease, and decrease risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer. Contraceptives can also be beneficial for the treatment of non-gynecologic conditions.
A 2021 study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 61% of women use contraceptives to prevent pregnancy only, compared to 22% who said they use it to prevent pregnancy and some other reason. Eighteen percent of respondents said they use contraception to manage another medical condition or other reason.
Fromson told lawmakers that birth control is a “vital” part of advancing equal opportunities for women.
“By enabling people with the reproductive capacity commonly associated with women to decide if and when to become parents, birth control allows them to access more professional and educational opportunities,” Fromson said.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reports that contraceptive access has “increased women’s college enrollment by an estimated 12 to 20 percent and was responsible for 15 percent of the increases in women’s labor force participation that occurred from 1970 to 1990.”
“During this time of heightened need for reproductive health care, the very least we can do is expand access to contraceptives,” the committee’s chairperson, Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, concluded. “Expanding access to birth control would save lives, improve public health and help ease the skyrocketing demand currently inundating some [of] our state’s world-renowned medical health systems.”
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