One of hundreds of local grassroots activist groups that sprang into being across the US in early 2017 in the wake of the inauguration of Donald Trump, Ulster Activists or U-Act has formed a variety of committees targeted to address specific issues. One of these, the Women’s Issues interest group, has been busy for the past year lobbying for passage of state legislation called the Reproductive Health Act (RHA). The measure passed in the New York State Assembly, but the State Senate version, S.2796, has been long bottled up in committee by the New York State Senate and is deemed unlikely to pass this year.
So the Women’s Issues committee is taking another tack for 2018, shifting its focus to the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act of 2017 (CCCA), first proposed by New York State attorney general Eric Schneiderman and co-sponsored by local legislators John Bonacic in the State Senate (S.3668) and Kevin Cahill in the Assembly (A.1378). On Thursday, April 12 from 7 to 8 p.m. in Lecture Center 102 on the SUNY New Paltz campus, the group will host an information session on the bill and what’s holding up passage in the State Senate. To make learning more fun, the event will be structured in a popular game-show format: “Your Reproductive Rights Are in Jeopardy!”
In their lobbying efforts last year for RHA, according to committee member Kathy Adorney, “we learned that public outcry makes the difference. So this year we’re concentrating on educating the public, so that they’ll be calling and writing their legislators, writing letters to the editor. Right now we’re targeting SUNY students; it’s an issue they care about… Our goal is to get the information out and increase activism.”
Like its predecessor, the CCCA has easily passed in the Assembly but is stuck in the State Senate’s Insurance Committee, which is chaired by James Seward, a Republican representing District 51. The bill would insulate New York State against some of the rollbacks to the federal Affordable Care Act currently being pushed by the Trump administration, specifically those that impact health insurance coverage for contraceptive drugs, devices and procedures. Regardless of what happens at the national level, passage of the CCCA would require health insurance companies in New York State to provide cost-free coverage for all FDA-approved methods of birth control, including those targeted at men. Adorney noted that the bill is “the first that covers vasectomies.”
Covered costs would also include the “morning-after pill,” which is opposed by the religious right on the supposition that it is an abortifacient. Adorney and her committee colleagues call this a popular misunderstanding, explaining that the changes in body chemistry induced by the intervention actually prevent the ovum from being fertilized. The CCCA would also prohibit insurance companies from requiring delays to the process of obtaining contraception, and enable patients to obtain the morning-after pill without cost as promptly and easily as a flu or shingles vaccine via a “non-patient-specific prescription” issued to pharmacies.
The committee considers it important to get the word out to the general public on these sorts of details in order to put pressure on the legislature to pass the bill. Noting that 50 percent of all pregnancies are unplanned, Adorney said, “We are living in a culture of ignorance and denial. When you change a law, you change the culture.”
The April 12 event at the Lecture Center is open to the general public, but there’s a specific strategy involved in pitching it to college students, besides their vested interest in being able to delay pregnancy until they are ready for it. A significant portion of the student body at SUNY New Paltz hails from, and may still vote in, downstate districts that are represented in the state legislature by members of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). Although they run as Democrats, these eight legislators are “blue dogs” who caucus with Republicans in the State Senate and typically vote with them. Supporters of the CCCA are targeting the IDC as a voting bloc that has helped to thwart its passage, but might still be persuaded to swing their weight to the “pro” column on the issue of the guaranteed availability of birth control.
“Part of our goal is to inform people where the IDC is based that this is happening,” explained another U-Act Women’s Issues committee member, Maggie Veve. “Constituency matters. They track how many cards, letters and postcards they get.” Moreover, she noted, “It’s valuable that students learn more about the legislative process.” Regardless of where they live and vote, attendees at “Your Reproductive Rights Are in Jeopardy!” will be provided with postcards in support of CCCA that they can address to their representatives; U-Act will take care of mailing them. A voter registration table will also be set up in the lobby.
To learn more about next week’s Contraceptive Rights event, the activities of the Women’s Issues committee and U-Act in general, including how you can get involved, visit https://sites.google.com/view/ulster-act/home or www.facebook.com/ulsteractivists.