By Elizabeth Arzt, Digital and Communications Fellow
Last week, an all male majority on a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee defeated mainstream legislation to increase access to contraception. The bill would have allowed Virginia women to obtain a 12 month supply of birth control in a single visit to the pharmacy, granting them greater security over their reproductive lives. NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Policy Director Janice Craft-Henry testified on behalf of the bill. Unfortunately, she faced disrespectful treatment and hypocritical rhetoric in the face of commonsense reform.
This vital legislation, H.B. 592, sponsored by Delegate Patrick Hope (D-47), would have provided women greater control over their reproductive and financial futures. Most insurance companies only allow for contraception to be dispensed on a monthly or bi-monthly basis, regardless of the amount of medication permitted through the prescription. This results in barriers to access, as women have to make more trips to the doctor, pay more in transportation costs, and juggle professional and personal obligations that interfere with pharmacy hours. This easy legislative fix would have particularly aided women who live in rural areas who have to travel long distances to reach a pharmacy.
In her testimony, Craft-Henry highlighted a study by the National Institutes of Health, which found that an uninterrupted yearlong supply of birth control has been proven to reduce unintended pregnancies by an astounding 30%. Furthermore, the study showed that a steady supply of contraception would reduce abortion rates by a jaw-dropping 46%. Unfortunately, her arguments for necessary reform fell on deaf ears.
The Delegates were antagonistic, haranguing Craft-Henry by refusing to let her answer the very questions that they posed. After badgering her about NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s position on over-the-counter birth control, Committee Chairman Hugo (R-40) went so far as to wage the ludicrous accusation that NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia – the state’s leading reproductive health policy advocate – obstructs access to contraceptives. “So if you’re opposed to over-the-counter than you’re opposed to birth control,” charged Hugo.
(Video linked below)
The fact is, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia is in favor of an over-the-counter birth control policy that guarantees the daily birth control pill is covered by health insurance. The organization aims to build on the ACA’s no-cost contraceptive coverage benefit – so women are not forced to pay out of pocket for basic health. Women literally can’t afford to rely on politicians who claim to support affordable birth control, but have nothing to show for it.
Hugo’s disingenuous line of questioning exposes that he — and his Republican colleagues — are not motivated to help Virginia women, but are fearful of having their anti-woman voting record exposed. Another delegate expressed alarm that if he voted against allowing a year’s supply of birth control, he would be painted as anti-birth control. “I just want to make sure you’re not implying if this bill doesn’t pass we’re cutting off women’s birth control, cause that’s your tone,” he said. Echoing his colleague, Hugo concluded, “I think everybody up here fully supports birth control.”
Clearly the irony of claiming to support reproductive freedom before voting against increasing women’s access to contraceptives is lost on these legislators. It’s no surprise that they are scared because their votes are out of step with their constituents’ values. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 98% of women will use some form of birth control in their lifetime. Furthermore, a poll conducted by the National Institute of Reproductive Health found that 75% of Virginia voters believe that there is much more work to be done to achieve full equality, and that equality is largely contingent on whether a woman has autonomy over her reproductive life.
A small male minority who can’t even respectfully listen to how proposed legislation would benefit women, should not decide vital decisions about women’s health. Virginia Women deserve the confidence and security of knowing that their health needs are taken seriously. These male legislators failed to understand the clear beneficial impact this commonsense measure would have on Virginia women and families.
NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia will continue to hold these legislators accountable for their anti-woman voting record and hypocritical rhetoric. And we will continue to fight on behalf of Virginia women and families.