For those of us who are concerned with reproductive rights, and who understand how laws impact individuals’ rights, it’s easy to become frustrated with many recent federal policy changes. The President and Vice President are committed to rolling back access to contraception, abortion, and medically accurate information regarding sexuality, and the Supreme Court’s recent ruling will bar most transgender people from serving in the military. These are reminders of how ephemeral our hard won rights can be.
But let’s also remember that the federal laws aren’t the only laws that matter, and we can’t sit around waiting for a new administration. State laws matter a lot; they have a huge impact. And the process for changing state laws is alive and well.
Witness my home state of New York. As Speaker Carl Heastie said, “The goal of public legislation should be to increase access to quality health care, not to place restrictions and undue burdens on patients and providers.” We finally passed the Reproductive Health Act, which will codify the federal protections of Roe v. Wade into state law. This has passed the NYS Assembly many times, in an effort to bring our old laws up to date, but it has failed in the NYS Senate each time. Until Tuesday. We also passed the Contraception Coverage Act and the “Boss Bill,” legislation that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on their reproductive health decisions. It also ensures the privacy of employee’s medical information.
My hope is that people in other states will familiarize themselves with their state’s laws and work to advocate for changes when necessary. Please be aware that for years, the anti-choice activists have successfully eroded rights in many states. For example, since the year 2000, the proportion of women ages 13-44 living in states labeled ‘hostile’ or ‘very hostile’ to abortion has increased from 7% to 43%. To check the status of each state, click here.
In addition, there are currently over 19 million women ages 13-44 living in “contraceptive deserts,” areas lacking reasonable access to publicly funded clinics offering a full range of birth control methods. For everyone who read my book and noted the obstacles that teens and adults in poverty faced in my county, please remember that 100% of the people I served lived in a county with those services. So think about what the obstacles would be if they didn’t! That’s what we’re up against now in the US.
This is important: policies that create barriers to sexuality education and reproductive health services—including access to a full range of contraceptive methods and abortion—disproportionately impact the most vulnerable members of our society: people in poverty, people of color, young people, and people without formal education. We need to acknowledge that the playing field isn’t level. Rather than tilting it farther, increasing these disparities, our policies should help level it. I thank all my readers for everything you do to help change that.