House lawmakers reintroduced a bill that would allow military families to obtain expanded access to reproductive health care.

The Access to Contraception for Servicemembers and Dependents Act of 2021 will expand reproductive health access to birth control, family planning education and emergency contraception for survivors of assault. The expanded access would also extend to non-active-duty service members, those in the reserves, inactive reserves, retired military members and their dependents. Currently, TRICARE, which is the health insurance program for military members and their families, only offers limited contraception methods. Compounding the problem are poor continuity of care, long wait times and poor contraceptive counseling.

“Our military families should not have fewer rights than those they serve to protect,” sponsor of the bill Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee said in a statement. “Access to basic, preventive health care, including contraception and family planning counseling, is critical to troop readiness, wellbeing, and equality.”

Access to Contraception for Servicemembers and Dependents Act ensures that reproductive health care provided by the military includes all FDA-approved contraception with no copay. The bill was designed to alleviate cost barriers to women who need access to birth control, and could help prevent unwanted pregnancies.

More than 100 legislators support the bill, which was first introduced in 2014. U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) also proposed a Senate version.

At present, the Department of Defense (DoD) provides health care to more than 1.6 million women who are of reproductive age. Approximately 95% of women serving in the military are of reproductive age and more than 700,000 female spouses and dependents of the members of the military are of reproductive age.

The bill also requires that the DoD develop a comprehensive family planning education program for both men and women on the types of contraception methods and the contraceptive methods that are currently available. The standardized curriculum would be helpful in preventing unwanted pregnancies and diseases.

“It’s unacceptable that some members of our military and their family members are saddled with out-of-pocket expenses for contraception, while patients in the commercial insurance market are guaranteed access to contraception without cost-sharing,” Shaheen said in the same statement. “Removing these barriers and ensuring reproductive care is available to our military families upholds our commitment to provide them quality, comprehensive services and also is an investment in our military readiness. We owe them the best for their service and sacrifice for our nation.”

The Supreme Court has agreed to take up a case that presents one of the biggest challenges to abortion rights.

The case has the potential to change the last 50 years of precedence for abortion rights in the U.S. With a 6-3 conservative lean on the high court, the case has reproductive health and women’s health rights activists up in arms.

The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, is based in Mississippi, where lawmakers banned abortion after 15 weeks. While it doesn’t overrule Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion care, it significantly burdens and will negatively impact those seeking abortion care services. Opponents argue it is unconstitutional. If proponents of the restrictions win a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court, many other states could follow with their own aggressive restrictions.

“The court cannot uphold this law without overturning the principal protections of Roe v. Wade,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told reporters this week.

Several states have introduced anti-women’s health care legislation over the last decade, with many bills restricting access to reproductive care. Courts have overturned many restrictions that specifically limit abortion care after a number of weeks, though Mississippi is one of 11 states with trigger bans in place that would automatically overturn abortion rights if the Supreme Court allowed. However, the Supreme Court has repeatedly turned down state appeals over abortion laws. In this case, viability of the fetus is likely to play a role in the battle. Viability is currently defined around 24 weeks.

The Mississippi law also only impacts a small amount of abortions, as 90% occur during the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many later-stage abortions are also due to medical necessity. The law is also nearly identical to one struck down by the court in 2016, said Chief Justice John Roberts, the AP reported.

"There is no doubt that this court has become overwhelmingly conservative and these Justices past decisions are troubling on reproductive rights, particularly abortion. However, we would hope that regardless of political ideology and judicial philosophy, all justices would agree that their principal function is to uphold constitutional rights, particularly as articulated in past precedent," Jamille Fields Allsbrook, director of women’s health and rights with the Women’s Initiative at the Center for American Progress, told The Whipp. "This should make the Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization an easy one – the Mississippi ban is inconsistent with long standing precedent. In fact, the Supreme Court did not need to take this case at all to resolve this issue."

With the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who passed just before the court’s new term in October, the slant of the Supreme Court majorly shifted, giving anti-abortion activists new hope. She was replaced by Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative who is an opponent of abortion rights. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh are also likely to vote in favor of upholding the Mississippi ban, after they “voted in dissent last year to allow Louisiana to enforce restrictions on doctors that could have closed two of the state’s three abortion clinics,” the AP reported.

Women’s rights supporters, including Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), viewed the case as a need for legislation that protects a woman’s right to choose.

Abortion care advocates have vowed to fight back.

"Our hearts are with the communities in Mississippi who are most harmed by attacks on abortion care, and we extend our solidarity to abortion providers, abortion funds, and advocates who continue to fight back," Lilith Fund Executive Director Amanda Beatriz Williams told The Whipp. "While there is uncertainty around the outcome of this case, we know one thing for sure: Roe has never been enough for people in the South who continuously struggle to access abortion care. We cannot depend on the courts alone to protect our communities. Time and time again, abortion funds like Lilith Fund show up for our communities when courts and lawmakers fail us. Nothing will deter us from our unwavering commitment to supporting people seeking abortion care."

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Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

The Biden administration has reversed a Trump-era rule that stripped transgender people of some of their healthcare rights. The reversal will once enforce prohibition of sex discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Healthcare service providers that take federal funds will not be allowed to discriminate against people based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. The move was applauded by LGBTQ advocates across the nation.

“Fear of discrimination can lead individuals to forgo care, which can have serious negative health consequences,” Xavier Becerra, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said in a statement. “It is the position of the Department of Health and Human Services that everyone––including LGBTQ people––should be able to access health care, free from discrimination or interference, period.”

The reversal comes after former President Donald Trump rolled back these Obamacare protections in June 2020. Trump’s administration defined "sex discrimination according to the plain meaning of the word 'sex' as male or female and as determined by biology." However, the Supreme Court ruled soon after that federal law prohibits job discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, and a federal judge blocked the rule from going into effect.

As much as 25% of LGBTQ people who faced discrimination postponed or avoided receiving needed medical care for fear of further discrimination, HHS said.

“The mission of our Department is to enhance the health and well-being of all Americans, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation. All people need access to healthcare services to fix a broken bone, protect their heart health, and screen for cancer risk,” said Rachel Levine, MD, assistant secretary for health. “No one should be discriminated against when seeking medical services because of who they are.”