By Kalena Murphy
Raising Women’s Voices (RWV) has a special mission to engage women who are not often invited into health policy discussions, including women of color; low-income women; immigrant women; young women; women with disabilities; and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and intersex (LGBTQI) community. Our 25 Regional Coordinators (RCs) help represent these constituencies’ interests.
Week of Solidarity to Defend Abortion
Attacks on abortion are proliferating and have diminished reproductive freedom for thousands. In 2019 alone, abortion bans have passed in nine states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and Utah. In response, abortion rights supporters organized two defense efforts in May: a national “Day of Action” and a “Week of Solidarity to Defend Abortion.”
The Day of Action was organized by NARAL and other national organizations in collaboration with hundreds of local and state organizations. People gathered in every state to speak out and fight the latest attacks on reproductive rights. “These doors will remain open!” said Kwajelyn Jackson, Executive Director of Feminist Women’s Health Center (FWHC) and one of our RCs, at the event at Georgia’s state capital. FWHC recently became one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the new state new law effectively banning abortion after six weeks. The Week of Solidarity was organized by women-of-color-led organizations, including three RWV RCs: FWHC, WV FREE, and New Voices for Reproductive Justice. All week, we highlighted folks defending abortion in our states and communities.
States Act to Protect Access to Abortion Care
We’re thrilled to report real progress by our RCs to guarantee reproductive health care access. Illinois’ Reproductive Health Act guarantees that abortion will remain legal even if Roe is overturned. Input from advocates, including our RC EverThrive, ensured that contraception, sterilization, and pregnancy and maternity care were included as fundamental rights in the Act. Maine passed The Act to Authorize Certain Health Care Professionals to Perform Abortions, which goes into effect in September. The Act, which permits nurse practitioners and physicians assistants to perform abortion, seeks to addresses the fact millions of U.S. women live more than an hour from the nearest source of abortion care. “The limited number of professionals providing termination services has burdened women in rural areas of Maine,” said RC Consumers for Affordable Health Care.
States Make Progress on Postpartum Health Coverage
The U.S. has alarmingly high rates of maternal mortality, particularly among women of color, indicating that our maternity care system is in crisis. Most maternal deaths do not occur in the delivery room. They happen, instead, during the postpartum period, a medically vulnerable time when new mothers face a range of medical conditions, including childbirth complications, chronic conditions, and postpartum depression. The problem is compounded by the fact that the federal government requires pregnancy-related Medicaid coverage for just 60 days. On day 61, hundreds of thousands of mothers lose coverage; in states that didn’t expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), these women often have no other source of coverage.
In response, during 2019 legislative session, policymakers in Illinois, Texas, New Jersey, and California started to address our national maternal health crisis by supporting postpartum care. Illinois amended the state’s public health code to extend pregnant Medicaid beneficiaries’ coverage through the first year after delivery. The change was included in the budget implementation plan but lacks dedicated funding, so there is likely to be robust discussion on implementation. RWV RC EverThrive was a key advocate for this legislation.
A proposed bill in Texas would have similarly amended the state’s Human Resources Code to require that pregnant Medicaid beneficiaries remain covered for at least 12 months postpartum. The Afiya Center, our Dallas-based RC, was successful in providing language for the bill and pushing the bill forward; Afiya’s Policy Director Deneen Robinson testified at the hearing. The bill passed in the House, but didn’t make it to a vote in the Senate. Instead, the legislature agreed to a narrower, less expensive two-year initiative to address postpartum depression and substance abuse treatment for some low-income women. We will try again next year!
In New Jersey and California, similar bills have made progress on the legislative floor and are still being reviewed. New Jersey did enact a robust four-bill package to address maternal health, but extended postpartum Medicaid coverage was not included.
RWV Speaks Out While Court Debates ACA
RWV and many of our RCs joined national organizers in a TweetStorm to protest and raise awareness about Texas v. United States, the most recent lawsuit that threatens to overturn the ACA. The suit, brought by Attorneys General from Texas and 17 other conservative states, was argued before an Appeals Court in early July. In the TweetStorm, RWV explained that the lawsuit, if successful, could end Medicaid expansion and other ACA provisions, including protections for those with pre-existing conditions and required coverage for maternity care and contraception. RCs in Texas, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, New Jersey, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and West Virginia participated in the event. With more than 100 Tweets and retweets, RWV and our RCs helped the hashtags #WhatsAtStake and #TXvUS trend in Washington DC, and #ProtectOurCare trend nationally.
This fight isn’t over and the lawsuit is likely to make its way to the Supreme Court. We need to keep influencing the public dialogue, so justices will understand the public sentiment supporting the ACA, and feel more wary about overturning the ACA. Be sure to share your own content that includes stories and highlights using the hashtag, #WhatsAtStake.
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Kalena Murphy is the NWHN’s Senior State Advocacy Manager for RWV.