Column: N.H. Bill Would Improve Women’s Access to Contraception

To the Valley News
Monday, February 12, 2018

New Hampshire has a long, bipartisan tradition of supporting a woman’s right to privacy. Yet every year, a handful of extreme legislators try to pass bills that would put government in between a woman and her doctor, stigmatize basic health care for women, and attempt to chip away at a woman’s right to safe, legal abortion.

The 2018 legislative session is no different. This month, the New Hampshire House will hear bills that would mandate waiting periods for abortion procedures, abortion bans, and bills aimed at attempting to shame women for making personal medical decisions. All are attempts to reduce women’s access to a full range of reproductive health services.

These proposals infringe upon the rights of women to make personal, private health care decisions in consultation with their medical providers and create unnecessary, burdensome hurdles to women seeking access to safe, legal abortion care.

What is different about this year is that while Granite State women face a barrage of attacks in the New Hampshire Statehouse, they’re also bracing for attacks on access to contraception at the national level.

Thanks to increased access to contraception, better sexual education, and more women enrolled in health insurance, we are at historically low rates of unintended pregnancies in our country, and in New Hampshire that rate is one of the lowest nationwide. Still, 43 percent of all pregnancies in New Hampshire are unintended. We can, and we must, do better.

Birth control advances women’s economic and educational opportunities. Bloomberg Businessweek recently listed contraception as one of the most transformational developments in the business sector in the last 85 years, and one-third of the wage gains women have made since the 1960s are the result of access to oral contraceptives.

Birth control is also not controversial. In fact, 96 percent of voters surveyed support women having access to birth control. According to a December 2017 poll, a majority of voters consider contraceptives part of basic health care services.

Despite popular opinion, recent attacks on contraception coming out of Washington are very real, and put our historically low unintended pregnancy rates in jeopardy.

Luckily in New Hampshire, a group of bipartisan legislators are proposing a plan that not only protects access to no-cost contraception, but goes a step further by increasing access. These New Hampshire leaders believe that birth control is basic health care and they know that when women are in charge of their health decisions, all of New Hampshire does better.

SB 421 would enhance New Hampshire’s “Contraceptive Equity Law” to reflect current coverage and best medical practices by retaining the no co-pay protections already in the law, and by adding a requirement that coverage must include a 12-month supply of prescribed contraception at each dispensing interval.

This policy builds on New Hampshire’s long-standing commitment to ensuring women are able to access affordable contraception. Planned Parenthood is proud to stand with a broad coalition of health care advocates and organizations in the state who have signed on to support this bill.

SB 421 is a well-crafted bill that was developed by a bipartisan, multi-stakeholder study commission composed of legislators, medical professionals and public health experts who unanimously endorsed this legislation after studying during the fall of 2017 ways to expand and improve access to contraception in our state.

Until this handful of extreme anti-women’s health legislators are voted out of office in New Hampshire, attacks on women’s reproductive health and safety will continue. But this year, we have the opportunity to not only stop these dangerous bills, but work proactively to advance access to contraception for women in New Hampshire. Passage of this legislation would protect and expand access to a basic, preventative health care for women, regardless of their economic status.

By supporting this bill New Hampshire legislators can stand with women and families and prove to their constituents and the nation that they are committed to improving women’s health care.

Kayla Montgomery is the director of advocacy and organizing for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England in New Hampshire and Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund.