Contraceptive Equity Act makes birth control and vasectomies free statewide.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, the moderate Republican who has come out strongly in criticism of GOP front-runner Donald Trump and the emergence of his party’s extremists in the mainstream, signed into law a bill this week that is being hailed as “the most sweeping birth control access law in the country,” by reproductive rights organizations nationwide, a rare win for women in an era of GOP-majority legislature’s inflammatory views towards Planned Parenthood, birth control access, and women’s rights.
The Bill, formally known as The Contraceptive Equity Act, allows insured Maryland residents to get birth control for free by forcing insurance companies to offer the medication over-the-counter at no cost to consumers, eliminates pre-authorization requirements – long recognized by advocacy groups as a shady tactic from abstinence only organizations to push back against legal mandates – and provides free vasectomies for men.
Additionally, the morning-after pill is included in the over-the-counter options that will be provided for free, and insurers must provide six months’ worth of contraceptives at a time.
“Family planning is essential for women’s rights and cost is a factor in family planning,” said state Delegate Ariana Kelly, who sponsored the House bill, “This legislation is going to help eliminate barriers and reduce costs for women and for men.”
The bill won’t go into effect until 2018, however it is already being lauded for ensuring universal access to birth control, something declared by the United Nations in 2012 to be a basic human right.
“Many other states are implementing piecemeal provisions, but there’s nothing as comprehensive as this act,” said Karen Nelson, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, “Maryland is on the forefront across the board with this act.”
Predictably, conservatives came out sternly against the bill, citing that contraception isn’t a health care priority, nor should it be imposed on those whose religious beliefs advocate against its usage.
“The Catholic Church is not in favor of artificial birth control or in vitro fertilization,” said GOP State Sen. Ed Reilly, “But health insurance is supposed to be designed to treat sickness or illness. Vasectomies and birth control aren’t either. You’re interrupting a normal healthy program that a person goes through.”
Additionally, while some fiscal conservatives argued that the increased cost of covering contraception statewide would hurt insurers, Maryland healthcare companies found that the cost to the system would end up decreasing once the new law goes into effect, since the expected number of unintended pregnancies and associated costs are projected to be dramatically reduced as a result.
“Insurance companies in Maryland actually supported this effort,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md, “They concluded that the cost to the system would decrease. This falls into the whole category of trying to make sure that we have preventative health care that is very accessible.”
A rare win in otherwise tumultuous calendar year for women’s health and reproductive rights, which has seen 23 states attempt to de-fund Planned Parenthood.