I Live in a State That Respects Women: Sadly, That’s Unique

lady-liberty-350Forty-one years after the historic Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, politicians across the nation are falling all over themselves to take away a woman’s right to decide when and whether to have a child.

For the worst restrictions on abortion last year, it’s hard to pick a winner: North Dakota’s six-week abortion ban; Arkansas’s 12-week ban; Texas’s clinic restrictions forcing women to travel upwards of 150 miles for abortion care; laws like Kansas’s or South Dakota’s that expand waiting periods, make women have medically unnecessary ultrasounds or force doctors to provide misinformation to women before they are allowed to decide to have an abortion; or Michigan’s ban against private health coverage for abortion care. And the prize for most ignorant statement about rape, abortion and pregnancy is widely shared. For a (depressing) summary of the most radical restrictions enacted last year, see here and here.

The ACLU and other organizations have worked hard to get courts to temporarily block many of these laws but some have already gone into effect. It’s a long road ahead to get them off the books.

In the meantime, I live and work in the magical land of California, which last year, had the notable distinction of being the only state in the nation to buck this ugly trend, stand up for women and actually expand a woman’s access to abortion. Our new law grants a woman wider access to early abortion care from local providers whom she already knows and trusts. The law authorizes specially trained nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and physician assistants to provide abortion services during the first trimester. Before the law, 52 percent of California counties did not have an accessible abortion provider.

We also enacted a landmark privacy law that protects the personal and sensitive health information of people covered under another person’s health insurance. California’s strong medical privacy laws didn’t mean much in practice for people like those under 26 who stay on their parent’s insurance (thanks, Affordable Care Act) or people on a spouse or partner’s insurance because insurance companies would automatically send an explanation of benefits — all the care someone got — to the policy holder. Our new law fixed that loophole so now sensitive services like reproductive health care, sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, mental health care, drug/alcohol treatment and domestic violence-related care are presumptively not shared on statements to the policy holder.

But even in California, we have more work to do. This year, we’ll be working hard to:

  • Implement our abortion access and privacy legislative victories.
  • Pass a bill to repeal an outdated law that punishes low-income mothers in their decision to have a child, inserts the government into the private reproductive decisions of low-income families and deprives newborns of basic government aid for food, clothing and shelter.
  • Improve health care for incarcerated women and stop practices that coerce an incarcerated woman’s reproductive decisions.
  • Ensure religion is not used to restrict necessary health care, particularly given the rise in religious hospital mergers nationally and here in California, making sure nothing like what happened to Tamesha Means ever happens to a woman in California.
  • Enforce the right to comprehensive sex education in places like the Central Valley and beyond, to ensure young people have the information and skills they need to make healthy decisions about sex and relationships.
  • melissa-goodmanDemand the right of working parents to get paid sick days so that they can take time off to care for a sick child without fear of losing a paycheck and educate working parents about their right to paid family leave to care for a newborn or sick relative. True reproductive freedom requires the ability to exercise both the right not to have children and the right to have children and be able to care for them. Yet, in California, approximately forty percent of the private workforce do not get paid sick days and more than half of California workers eligible for the paid family leave program don’t know it exists or use it.

So happy anniversary, Roe. We’ll keep the momentum going, at least in California.

Melissa Goodman
ACLU Southern California

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