National abortion-rights organization NARAL Pro-Choice America recently deemed Ohio one of this year’s worst states in terms of women’s access to abortion and contraceptive services. Among its most restrictive anti-abortion bills this year, the so-called “heartbeat bill,” which recently passed the Ohio House, has received extensive media coverage since its introduction in February.
But a reproductive rights bill that has received scant attention is the Ohio Prevention First Act, which was introduced in both chambers late last month. The bill, which has been introduced in the past, includes several provisions, among them implementing reproductive-health education in schools; creating a teen-pregnancy-prevention task force; preventing health insurance companies from excluding coverage for FDA-approved prescription contraception; preventing pharmacies from refusing to dispense FDA-approved contraception; and giving sexual-assault victims information and access to emergency contraception.
Ohio Right to Life immediately attacked the bill, claiming it violates conscience rights protections.
The House version has been referred to the House Health and Aging Committee; the Senate version has not moved.
From Ohio’s Daily Court Reporter:
In a statement, [Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, who sponsored the House bill] urged lawmakers to back the House and Senate proposals. “I invite members of the General Assembly to join us in supporting women as fully responsible and capable citizens who are entitled to full access to contraceptives, comprehensive reproductive health information and compassionate assistance for rape victims,” she said. “Doctors take an oath to “first do no harm” and I believe we legislators can apply ‘Prevention First’ as an important strategy to reduce unintended pregnancies and promote the health and well-being of all Ohioans.”
A similar bill was introduced in the U.S. House in May by Rep. Steven R. Rothman (D-N.J.). The Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies Act of 2011, which has 38 co-sponsors, would introduce new requirements for hospitals who receive federal funding through the Medicare or Medicaid program: They would have to inform sexual-assault survivors about FDA-approved emergency contraception and provide emergency contraception — free of charge — upon request. The bill has been referred to several House committees but has not moved since May 6.
The federal bill, like Ohio’s, has gotten next-to-no coverage from mainstream media outlets.
According to the Guttmacher Institute (PDF), 17 states and the District of Columbia require hospital emergency rooms to provide emergency contraception-related services to rape victims. Nine states have adopted restrictions on emergency contraception, and five states allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense contraceptives to women, including emergency contraception.
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