Protecting reproductive health care: Mass. lawmakers, advocates continue to press for ‘full spectrum’ care

By Sydney Ko

For the Gazette

Published: 02-21-2023 10:38 AM

BOSTON — Despite the 2020 passage of the ROE Act and a multimillion-dollar investment in reproductive health care access, infrastructure, and security last year, advocates say Massachusetts still faces a threat from efforts to restrict interstate travel and medication for abortions, and additional legislative action is needed.

To that end, Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, has filed legislation that would eliminate co-payments and deductibles for reproductive health care, providing relief for those who need it.

“We’re hoping that this bill will step up and require insurers to make sure that people are getting the care that they need, but also not incurring the debt that a lot of high deductible plans can come with,” Sabadosa said.

Rebecca Hart Holder, president of Reproductive Equity Now, said continued protections and help is needed as a result of efforts by Texas and other states to impose wide-ranging abortion restrictions.

Last June, the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturned Roe’s 49-year precedent, returning the question of legal abortion to the states.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health care and rights, 12 states have imposed “near-total” bans on abortion. In addition to Texas, those states include Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and West Virginia.

The Texas Heartbeat Act, or SB. 8, bans abortion after the detection of embryonic or fetal cardiac activity, which normally occurs after six weeks of pregnancy. When the law took effect on Sept. 1, 2021, Holder said Massachusetts started seeing patients from Texas “almost immediately” for access to health care.

“The fear is that a state like Texas will eventually try to ban its residents from traveling to a state like Massachusetts for care and we want to make sure that our providers are protected,” she said.

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Massachusetts has the opportunity to set the pace for the nation, Holder said. It remains a safe place for people to access high-quality abortion care and has passed a shield law to protect providers from out-of-state actors. However, the anti-abortion movement’s goal isn’t to just ban abortion in all 50 states, but also to attack contraception, in vitro fertilization, and pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs, she said.

“I think we have an obligation to advance care, not just for residents of Massachusetts, but people across the country. We are a safe place for people to come access the high quality of abortion care,” she said.

Reproductive Equity Now, the ACLU of Massachusetts, and Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Massachusetts helped pass a law last legislative session that offers protections for abortion and gender-affirming care providers in the state.

In November, the Massachusetts Legislature invested $17.5 million in reproductive health care providers and clinics as a part of the economic development package, aimed to improve access, infrastructure and security. Lawmakers also passed an “historic omnibus” abortion access bill, said Claire Teylouni, director of government affairs at Reproductive Equity Now.

The act, signed by former Gov. Charlie Baker, mandates insurance coverage for abortion care without any cost sharing. It also requires public colleges and universities to develop plans and provide access or referrals for medical abortion.

Sabadosa’s new bill would also require insurance coverage for reproductive health care at a cost of about 21 cents extra per person each month. Although any amount of extra cost can be challenging, Sabadosa said the benefits are well worth the investment.

“We know that this will cost about 21 cents extra per person per month in insurance premiums … But I think 21 cents a month will make sure that families and kids are getting off on the right foot,” she said.

Sydney Ko writes for the Gazette as part of the Boston University Statehouse Program.]]>