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Reproductive Rights Are Safer After the Election, but Still Not Safe

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Welcome to The Week in Reproductive Justice, a weekly recap of all news related to the hot-button issue of what lawmakers are allowing women to do with their bodies!

This week, voters hit the polls to participate in the most impactful election in recent history (thanks in part to the 2016 election), with the potential to decide the fate of health care and human rights across the country, and even as the results of the election are buried in the news cycle by Donald Trump’s typical chaos, it’s critical that we digest these results and their consequences for women’s rights.

From ballot measures about abortion rights, to the new makeup of Congress, to recent Trump administration policies on insurance coverage of birth control and abortion, this week was huge for reproductive rights—and it showed why, even with the midterm elections behind us, there’s absolutely no room for complacency in the Trump era.

The midterm elections bring mixed results for reproductive rights

Pro-choice Democrats, led by a diverse array of new women leaders, stormed the House of Representatives, flipping dozens of red districts across the country. The election of a Democratic House for the first time in eight years means the safety of the Affordable Care Act for the most part, including its measures to protect access to reproductive health care. A pro-choice House could also mean protection of funding for Planned Parenthood, and even legislation to protect abortion rights on the federal level.

In some other good news, Democrats won big on the state level, flipping key state legislative bodies in New Mexico, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Colorado, Maine, and New York, as well as governors’ offices in New Mexico Maine, Michigan, Nevada, and Illinois. Considering abortion rights in this country are pretty much one Supreme Court decision away from being decided by the states, pro-choice state legislature and governors have never been more important.

But Tuesday night didn’t come without some concerning returns, too. The loss of Democratic Senate seats in North Dakota, Mississippi, Indiana, and potentially Florida (recount issues pending) all mean a stronger anti-choice Republican majority in the Senate, which could streamline confirmations of President Trump’s anti-choice judicial nominees in the next two years.

And in West Virginia and Alabama, ballot measures to restrict abortion, in the event that Roe v Wade is reversed, were met with success. In Alabama, this means that if Roe is reversed, abortion will be outlawed in recognition of how “life begins at conception.” The amendment does not necessarily outlaw abortion, but features dangerous personhood language that seems to prioritize religious views over recognition of women’s bodily autonomy.

In West Virginia, a “trigger law” already exists that would restrict abortion without Roe, but a ballot measure that voters ultimately favored will now block Medicaid funding of abortions.

In Oregon, a ballot measure that would have slashed a state law that covered the costs of Oregonians’ abortions was thankfully unsuccessful. The Reproductive Health Equity Act, signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown in 2017, will remain intact and ensure abortion access in Oregon is a right for all, rather than a socioeconomic privilege.

In other words, midterm elections were a mixed bag for reproductive rights, with crucial gains in state governments and the House, and deeply concerning losses in the Senate and states like Alabama and West Virginia, but we knew what was on the table and at stake for women’s health from the day Donald Trump was elected. The results of this election show we’ve made some progress, but we have our work cut out for us.

In the meantime, as Alabama and West Virginia face new threats to abortion access, take a minute to give what you can to their abortion funds, the Yellowhammer Fund serving Alabama, and the West Virginia Free Choice fund serving West Virginia.

The Trump administration finalizes new policy around the contraception mandate

For the past year, the Trump administration has been in the process of finalizing a plan to gut the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, through which 55 million American women gained access to copay-free birth control and saved about $1.4 billion annually.

On Wednesday, the Health and Human Services Department announced that they will allow religious groups, nonprofits, small businesses, and some other employers to deny employees birth control coverage. It’s worth noting that this plan is watered down from the original plan in 2017, which would have universally allowed any employer to opt out of the contraception mandate for any “moral” reason; that plan was blocked from going into effect by two federal judges for obvious reasons.

But “not as bad as it could have been” still isn’t good. As these new guidelines take immediate effect, women working for small companies and certain nonprofits could lose access to key health care that’s crucial to their ability to work, take care of themselves, and lead autonomous lives. The contraception mandate has been in and out of the courts ever since its nascence in the Obama era, so here’s to hoping this new policy will be challenged shortly.

HHS moves to create separate bill for abortions

Not to be outdone by itself, this week, the HHS also proposed a new policy that would require insurers to send Affordable Care Act enrollees two separate monthly bills if their plan covers abortion services. In addition to being transparently about stigma and shame, the new policy would also burden both companies and patients by forcing companies to send two different invoices to patients: one for the standard monthly insurance policy fee, and another for the premium for abortion coverage, which could be as low as $1, according to Think Progress.

According to All* Above All, a group meant to lift abortion coverage bans such as the Hyde amendment that bars federal funds from covering abortion services, the rule is “meant to cause confusion.” Additionally, according to Think Progress, the “administrative burden” could “discourage insurers from covering abortion services.” Already, with the Hyde amendment in place and about 26 states across the country restricting coverage for abortion, it’s become inaccessible for far too many low-income women.

The changes could come as early as November of next year. Until we elect pro-choice majorities in state legislatures and Congress that could allow for longterm, equitable policy change, abortion access will continue to be a privilege rather than a human right in this country—a reality that should outrage and terrify us. In the short-term, it’s crucial that we continue to vote for pro-choice candidates who promise to address Hyde and other insurance restrictions on abortion, and support abortion funds in any way we can.

Tune in next week to see what lawmakers will try next in their never-ending mission to derail reproductive justice!

(image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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