Virginia is moving towards becoming a safe haven for those seeking an abortion and reproductive healthcare, but its citizens on Medicaid, state exchange insurance, and in prison lack critical access to reproductive healthcare.
Out of the many lessons this pandemic has taught us, one has to be the reaffirmation that those with the most to lose are hit the hardest in times of crisis. We have the opportunity to make healthcare access easier for those most vulnerable, including those who are incarcerated, on Medicaid, or whose only option for healthcare coverage is the state exchange—we must act. Access to all healthcare, including reproductive healthcare, must be protected and expanded in Virginia.
Over the last four years, we have seen attack after attack come from the federal government and anti-choice politicians across the country against reproductive healthcare access, abortion, and contraception, as well as a sustained campaign against the Affordable Care Act. This year, we aim to take measured steps towards redressing the imbalances that exist, fully acknowledging that these are but incremental steps on the road to a better future in Virginia with access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare for all.
This pandemic has highlighted that our most vulnerable populations also face difficulty accessing basic healthcare like refilling prescriptions. During a pandemic, people are urged to stay at home, especially if they have pre-existing conditions or are tending to those who are vulnerable. Requiring people who need birth control to renew prescriptions every 30 or 90 days makes little sense and is not based in science or medicine. This legislature has already fixed the problem for those in private insurance in 2017. However, it failed to cover those on Medicaid and accessing insurance on the exchange. This year, we are working on a bill to make permanent what Governor Northam has included in his budget, ensuring that people on Medicaid can have the same access to oral contraceptives as those who get insurance on the private market. Being able to avoid unintended pregnancy supports reproductive autonomy and financial stability.
Last year we took an essential first step in repealing harmful restrictions with the Reproductive Health Protection Act. This year, we can take another step by removing the nonsensical prohibition against insurance plans that provide abortion coverage on the state insurance exchange. So many people have lost their jobs and, therefore, their employer-provided healthcare. How can we justify the prohibition on the exchange when that might be the only place someone can obtain healthcare coverage? The new bill would not require that insurance plans cover abortion on the exchange but would remove the prohibition, which does not exist for any other healthcare type in the Code.
Along with shining a light on those who are financially disadvantaged, the COVID pandemic, and the horrific reports of forced sterilizations in immigration facilities, shone a light on our penal institutions’ deficiencies pertaining to healthcare. When the state takes custody of a person and deprives them of freedom, it also takes on the responsibility of providing adequate healthcare for that individual. With the recent and overdue focus on racial maternal mortality disparities and criminal justice reform, it is imperative that those who end up incarcerated and require reproductive healthcare not be overlooked. Unfortunately, they often are.
Last year, the Virginia legislature passed laws prohibiting restraints on incarcerated pregnant women, both before and during labor and delivery. It’s now time to ensure that incarcerated expectant moms and those who have recently given birth or had a miscarriage in the Commonwealth’s regional and local jails receive care that meets the standards recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. A bill being introduced in the upcoming session will require the Board of Regional and Local Jails to work with stakeholders, including medical professionals and prison reform advocates, to develop “best practices” to deliver maternal health care in a jail setting. We’re a country that espouses the value of giving everyone an equal opportunity. Meaning, an incarcerated pregnant mom and her unborn child must receive appropriate prenatal and postnatal care, delivered in a respectful and patient-centered manner, because every child deserves a healthy start to life.
One day, Virginia will be ready to expand healthcare access in radical ways. We believe that healthcare is a right, not a privilege granted to the few and wealthy. It’s our duty as legislators to work towards a future where all Virginians have the opportunity to make the best choices for themselves and their families concerning their reproductive destinies.
Updated Jan. 18 to change date in fourth paragraph to 2017.
McClellan, Boysko, Favola, and Hope are Democratic legislators in the General Assembly. McClellan is from Richmond; the others are from Northern Virginia.