Amid Coronavirus Pandemic, Many States Moved to Ensure Access to Reproductive Health Care, New Report Shows

July 8, 2020
Contact: Marisa Rodriguez, [email protected]

The National Institute for Reproductive Health’s (NIRH) Annual Midyear Report Highlights State Actions to Protect and Advance Reproductive Health, Rights and Justice in the First Half of 2020 

NEW YORKDuring the first half of 2020, many states took action to protect access to reproductive health care, with some stepping up to protect abortion care specifically. The National Institute for Reproductive Health’s Gaining Ground: 2020 Midyear Report details the progress states made so far this year in advancing reproductive health, rights, and justice, even in the midst of a pandemic that temporarily shuttered most legislatures. Despite some significant attempts by some states to exploit the epidemic to effectively ban abortion, 44 states and the District of Columbia introduced 546 proactive reproductive health, rights, and justice bills in their legislatures, continuing the recent trend of states picking up the mantel to advance policies to advance reproductive freedom.

“Amid a global pandemic that has underscored the need for timely, safe, affordable access to reproductive health care, states continued the trend of leading the way by enacting proactive policies and recognizing their power to improve access to abortion, contraception, insurance coverage, paid leave, and other needs that have been laid bare by this pandemic,” said Andrea Miller, president of NIRH. “State officials have filled the leadership vacuum left by our federal government to ensure that residents retain access to essential health care. And pro-choice victories in state legislatures like Virginia set the stage for innovative, proactive policies to improve abortion access. As we head into the most important election year of our lifetimes, policymakers and voters alike are sending a message: reproductive freedom, including access to abortion, is essential, and we demand that access be protected and advanced.”

In the first six months of 2020 and as the COVID-19 crisis emerged, states passed proactive laws and adopted policies to prohibit political interference with the patient-doctor relationship, improve coverage for contraception, ensure abortion clinics could stay open, provide paid sick leave and insurance coverage, and call for an expansion of telehealth during unprecedented circumstances.

And though some anti-abortion governors and attorneys general aimed to exploit the coronavirus to limit abortion access, the majority of governors, health officials, attorneys general, and departments of health stepped up to protect public health.

Highlights from the first half of 2020 include:

  • Virginia, where voters elected a pro-choice majority in the legislature in 2019, enacted the Reproductive Health Protection Act, repealing major barriers to abortion care and making Virginia a critical point of access for people seeking abortions across the South.
  • Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Virginia, West Virginia all passed laws to make contraception more accessible – including allowing a 12-month supply of contraception (WV) and ensuring insurance coverage for contraception (MD and MN).
  • When state shutdowns began, California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Virginia, and Washington explicitly categorized reproductive health care, family planning services, or pregnancy-related care as essential services in their executive orders. Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York went further and explicitly included abortion care on the list of essential and time-sensitive health care procedures that would continue to be available. In Hawaii and Oregon, the attorneys general publicly clarified that their state’s order intended to classify abortion as “essential.”
  • New Jersey and New York enacted laws to extend existing paid family leave benefits to those affected by COVID-19.

“Over the past several years, as the federal government has grown more hostile to reproductive freedom, states have increasingly assumed the responsibility of safeguarding the right and ability of their residents to make decisions about their reproductive lives, making groundbreaking advances that expand access to care,” Miller said. “Although the Supreme Court granted us a temporary reprieve from further rolling back access to abortion last week, it will be critical for states to continue to build momentum in the coming year – and indeed, voters will be expecting that their elected officials continue to advance reproductive freedom in any way possible.”

NIRH publishes research twice each year on the proactive policy to protect and expand access to reproductive freedom in states across the country. At the close of 2020, NIRH will release its seventh annual year-in-review report, detailing trends and lessons learned through the entirety of 2020. The full Midyear Report is available here.


The National Institute for Reproductive Health (NIRH) is an advocacy group that works directly with state and local reproductive health, rights, and justice organizations and allied groups to protect and advance access to reproductive healthcare. For more than 40 years, NIRH has been partnering with communities to build coalitions, launch campaigns, and successfully advocate for policy change. NIRH’s strategy is to go on the offensive and focus on communities where change is needed, so the fabric of reproductive freedom becomes harder to tear apart.