In the first six months of 2020, most states took action to protect access to reproductive health care — with some stepping up to protect abortion care specifically.
The National Institute for Reproductive Health’s 2020 Midyear Report, Gaining Ground, details the progress states made so far this year in advancing reproductive rights, health, and justice, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
States’ actions to protect reproductive health care and advance reproductive freedom continues the momentum of proactive legislation from 2019 and stand in stark relief to the federal government’s failed response to COVID-19, and some lawmakers exploitation of the crisis to deny abortion care.
In the first half of 2020, 44 states and the District of Columbia (DC) introduced 546 pieces of proactive legislation to advance access to abortion, contraception, pregnancy care, sexuality education, support for parents and families, and to prohibit discrimination based on reproductive decisions. Overall, 47 bills were fully enacted, including four bills improving access to abortion, and seven bills to improve contraceptive access.
Some specific actions states took include prohibiting political interference with the patient-doctor relationship; ensuring clinics could stay open; providing paid sick leave and insurance coverage; calling for an expansion of telehealth during these unprecedented circumstances; and addressing implicit bias in health care.
Highlights from the first half of 2020 include:
- Virginia, where voters elected a pro-choice majority in the legislature in 2019, enacted the Reproductive Health Protection Act, repealing major barriers to abortion care in the state and made Virginia critical point of access for people seeking abortions across the South.
- Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Virginia, West Virginia all passed laws to make contraception more accessible – including allowing a 12-month supply of contraception (WV) and ensuring insurance coverage for contraception (MD and MN).
- When state shutdowns began, California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Virginia, and Washington explicitly categorized reproductive health care, family planning services, or pregnancy-related care as essential services in their executive orders. Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York went further and explicitly included abortion care on the list of essential and time-sensitive health care procedures that would continue to be available. In Hawaii and Oregon, the attorneys general publicly clarified that their state’s order intended to classify abortion as “essential.”
- New Jersey and New York enacted laws to extend existing paid family leave benefits to those affected by COVID-19.
- Alabama considered — but did not pass — a bill extending Medicaid coverage for pregnant women for a full year after giving birth, citing the renewed importance of health care coverage during the pandemic (House Bill 448).
- New York and New Jersey mandated that hospitals allow at least one support person accompany a birthing person during a birth, while Michigan’s governor issued an updated executive order clarifying visitation restrictions.