States Consider Abortion, Paid Leave, Gender Transition Policies

January 2, 2014 — The Women's Health Policy Report summarizes recent news coverage of state action on reproductive health-related issues.

Abortion-Rights Proponents Back Bills To Counter Antiabortion-Rights Legislation

Abortion-rights supporters are working to counter a wave of state-level abortion restrictions over the past three years by pushing bills that expand reproductive rights, NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday" reports.

For example, advocates in New York last year rallied behind the Women's Equality Act, with support from Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), while those in Pennsylvania are supporting the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health, which is a package of bills spearheaded by the state Legislature's Women's Health Caucus.

Meanwhile, California recently passed legislation (AB 154) that expands the types of medical professionals who can provide first-trimester abortions (Lohr, "Weekend Edition Sunday," NPR, 12/29).

Movement at State Level on Paid Family Leave

Multiple states are taking steps toward offering paid family leave to workers, which proponents say reflects public frustration with waiting for Congress to expand such protections at the federal level, the Washington Post reports.

So far, just three states -- California, New Jersey and most recently Rhode Island -- have approved paid family leave policies that are funded using contributions from employee paychecks, as opposed to taxpayer or employer dollars. The Rhode Island measure provides job-protected paid leave insurance for the care of a newborn, adopted or foster child, or sick relative. The California and New Jersey programs are similar, but the leave is not job-protected.

Bills also are pending in New York and Massachusetts, while several other states have set up task forces or have considered the issue in the past and might revisit the legislation.

Although progress has been slow at the federal level, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) recently bolstered the effort in Congress by introducing the Family Medical Insurance Leave Act, or FAMILY Act (Schulte, Washington Post, 12/29).

Conn. Requires Insurers To Cover Gender Transition Treatments

Connecticut has joined a small group of states in directing health insurers to cover mental health counseling, hormone therapy, surgery and other treatments related to gender transition, the Hartford Courant reports.

The Connecticut Insurance Department in a bulletin to insurers earlier this month said they must ensure that "individuals with gender dysphoria ... are not denied access to medically necessary care because of the individual's gender identity or gender expression." The directive is based on two state statutes that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and require coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues.

Health plans in the state have 90 days to review their policies and comply with the rules (Altimari, Hartford Courant, 12/26/13).

Mo. Bill Would Extend Abortion Waiting Period to 72 Hours

Missouri women would have to wait an additional two days to receive an abortion under legislation (SB 519) proposed in the state Senate for the legislative session that begins Jan. 8, the AP/Kansas City Star reports.

Missouri already requires a 24-hour waiting period before abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The proposal would extend the wait time to 72 hours, mirroring laws in South Dakota and Utah (Blank, AP/Kansas City Star, 12/29/13).

Wis. Senate Not Likely To Debate Antiabortion-Rights Measures in 2014

Wisconsin's state Senate most likely will not vote this year on two antiabortion-rights bills that had been scheduled for consideration in November but deferred because of resistance from Democratic senators, the AP/Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter reports.

Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) said, "I know there's some concern [among Republican senators] that some of the bills are passing and are tied up in court and never take effect and we're just spinning our wheels," adding, "I want to make sure we do it right."

One of the bills (AB 216) would ban public health plans from covering abortion and exempt religious organizations from covering contraceptives in their health plans. The other proposal (AB 217) would prohibit abortion based on the sex of the fetus.

The state Assembly passed both bills in June, but Fitzgerald delayed floor consideration in the upper chamber after state Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D) pledged "all out hell" if the bills were scheduled for debate (Bauer, AP/Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter, 12/30/13).