State Legislators Introduce Bills to Try to Prevent Changes to Women’s Health Coverage

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In an attempt to shield the state from federal policy changes, California legislators are working on a series of women’s health bills.

A bill introduced by Sen. Ed Hernandez of West Covina would require the state’s low-income health plan to continue ensuring access to reproductive health care even if the federal government changes its coverage.

Senate bill 743 would hold California to existing federal law that allows those with Medi-Cal to “go to the provider of their choosing (even if the provider is out of network) for family planning and reproductive health services,” said Melanie Moreno, staff director of the Senate Health Committee, which Hernandez chairs.

“This has been in federal law for decades, but we’re worried that it is vulnerable given the culture in D.C. right now,” Moreno said.

The Republican majority in Congress and President Donald Trump has said that they want to cut federal funding to some reproductive-health organizations, such as Planned Parenthood. In mid-April, Trump signed legislation that could eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood and other groups that perform abortions.

In an effort to ensure access to family planning, federal law has allowed Medicaid enrollees to choose their reproductive-health provider for more than 30 years, according to Hernandez’s office.

“California has long embraced policies and programs that protect and expand access to comprehensive reproductive health care,” states a release on SB 743 from Hernandez’s office. “As a result, health outcomes have improved, public dollars have been saved, and teen birth and abortion rates in our state are at their lowest in decades.”

College campus access

Another California proposal, Senate bill 320, would require public college campuses with student health centers to offer medication abortion. The bill, introduced by Sen. Connie M. Leyva of Chino, would greatly expand access across California.

The bill passed, with a 6-2 vote, through the Senate Health Committee in mid April, and now moves to the Education Committee. Instead of pushing for passage this year, advocates have decided to spend the next year organizing supporters and refining the bill.

“SB 320 will ensure that pregnant college students — if they choose to do so — are able to end their pregnancy within the first few weeks without needing to travel off campus to a distant clinic, pay out of pocket and even miss class or work obligations in order to access these constitutionally protected services,” Leyva said in a release.

Protecting employees

A bill introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher of San Diego would prohibit employers from firing or retaliating against workers because of their reproductive health choices. Called the Reproductive Health Nondiscrimination Act, AB 569 would amend the state Labor Code to protect employees from being discriminated against in the workplace because of personal decisions, such as whether to use birth control or in vitro fertilization.

Women across the country have been fired because of their reproductive health decisions, according to NARAL Pro-Choice California, which supports the bill. The organization sites as an example the case of Teri James, who was fired from her job as a financial aid specialist at San Diego Christian College in 2012 because she became pregnant while she was unmarried.

“This is both a reproductive rights and economic security matter for women and their families,” a NARAL fact sheet on the bill reads.

A final bill, SB 309 by Sen. Hannah Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara, would create a pro-choice California license plate that would raise money for family planning services for low-income residents. The funds would provide “much-needed support for clinics that would be the hardest hit if the Trump administration and Congress succeed in defunding reproductive health providers,” according to NARAL.

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