Sen. Shirley Turner (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)
A bill that would require health insurers to cover contraceptives for 12 months at a time — instead of the six months now mandated by state law — advanced in the New Jersey Senate Monday.
Testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee, bill sponsor Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) said the change will help reduce abortions by preventing pregnancies. That’s critically important now as the nation inches closer to eroding or reversing the landmark 1973 case that legalized abortion, Roe v. Wade, she said.
The Supreme Court last week heard arguments in a case challenging a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks. With a conservative majority, the court signaled it may uphold the state’s law, which would disregard decades of precedent and potentially energize other states that have been looking to restrict abortion.
“This couldn’t be more urgent. It’s very propitious in terms of what’s going on with the Supreme Court,” Turner said. “We need to provide as many methods for contraceptives as possible so that women will not have to resort to abortion. We have got to remove all these barriers to contraception.”
Turner cited studies showing that a year’s supply of contraceptives decreases unwanted pregnancies by 30% and reduces the odds of an abortion by 46%. Current law requires health insurers to cover three months of contraceptives at a time when the doctor writes a woman an initial prescription, and six months of contraceptives at a time for subsequent prescriptions.
Turner also is a co-sponsor on another measure, the Reproductive Freedom Act, that would expand and codify abortion rights in New Jersey. Activists last week rallied outside the Statehouse to support that bill.
Lawmakers have just five weeks to pass both bills before a new legislative session begins in early January.
Advocates from Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, New Jersey Policy Perspective, and the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute were among those who offered testimony in support of the contraceptives bill Monday.
“This is an issue of reproductive autonomy and health equity in New Jersey,” said Brittany Lee, a program officer with the institute.
This couldn't be more urgent ... We need to provide as many methods for contraceptives as possible so that women will not have to resort for abortion.
– Sen. Shirley Turner
The bill also is fiscally responsible, Lee said, because it saves the healthcare costs of unintended pregnancies avoided.
The ACLU asked committee members to amend the bill to require Medicaid — in addition to private insurers and the state health benefits program — to cover contraceptives and to remove the initial three-month period of prescription. The committee accepted the amendments, so prescribers can dispense contraceptives for a yearlong period and set a trial period if they believe it necessary.
The bill now needs a full Senate vote. It has not been heard by an Assembly committee.
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