Despite Hostile State Legislatures, Proactive Reproductive Rights and Health Bills Nearly Triple in Two Years

Jan. 10, 2017
Contact: Christie Petrone, 646-520-3504, [email protected]

New Report Documents Increase in Proactive Legislation in 2016 Even as State Legislatures Try to Roll Back Access to Reproductive Health Care

NEW YORK — In a year notable for open, public hostility toward women’s dignity and a continuing trend of legislatures seeking to push reproductive health care out of reach, an unexpectedly optimistic picture emerged from three-quarters of states across the country. According to a new analysis by the National Institute for Reproductive Health, advocates and legislators advanced 191 pieces of legislation in 2016 aimed at improving reproductive and sexual health and protecting these rights — nearly tripling the number of such proactive bills that passed in states just two years ago.

“There is no doubt that women in many states have experienced severe setbacks in access to reproductive health services in 2016, just as they have for the last five years,” said Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health. “But, in that same time, advocates and legislators have also started a powerful countervailing trend: working together, we have succeeded in generating a surge of proactive policy and legislation in statehouses in every region in the country that have the potential to improve women’s lives, health, and safety.”

Gaining Ground: Proactive Reproductive Health and Rights Legislation in the States, the National Institute’s third annual report on proactive reproductive health and rights policies in the states, explores these gains. It finds that 36 states and the District of Columbia saw action on 191 proactive policies, 80 of which became law. (And scores of other proactive bills were introduced, but did not move, during 2016). Extensive groundwork by the National Institute and its state and national partners contributed to the significant uptick from 2014, which saw 30 proactive bills become law, and 2015, when 76 proactive laws were enacted. The measures counted in this report, all of which passed at least one legislative committee, fall into four categories: protecting or expanding access to abortion, contraception, and sexual health care; enhancing insurance coverage for these services; improving the sexual and reproductive health of youth; and promoting healthy pregnancies, parents, and infants. The report also includes recommendations for bold policy proposals that states should consider for 2017.

“We certainly have our work cut out for us in 2017,” said Miller. “But the legislative victories in 2016 demonstrate the magnitude of the grassroots and political support that advocates are cultivating all across the country. In 2017, watch for additional states seeking to shore up protections — from explicitly enshrining abortion rights in their own laws to creating (and deepening) their commitment to affordable contraceptive coverage to stepping in to ensure funding for vital services on the chopping block at the federal level. This is cause for real optimism for further progress – and needed resistance – in the year ahead.”

In 2016, advocates and elected officials advanced creative ideas, including laws that would protect patient privacy, allow pregnant women to stay on the job, and enable parenting students to take sick leave. Some notable new types of laws include:

  • California passed a law (Senate Bill 1014) protecting the rights of pregnant and parenting students by allowing students to take sick leave without endangering their academic career.
  • Illinois passed a law (Senate Bill 1564) protecting access to abortion by amending state law to require that, even when a medical provider has an objection to providing some types of medical care, including abortion, the patient can still access it.
  • Massachusetts passed a law (Senate Bill 2138) ensuring that confidential information about an individual’s health care, including abortion care and other reproductive health services, is sent directly to the person who received care, not to the insurance policy-holder. This law helps dependents who might need or want to keep the reproductive health care they receive confidential (such as young adults still on their parents’ insurance or victims of domestic violence).

Additional promising trends are:

  • Five states (CA, HI, IL, MD, VT) protected and expanded access to contraception by passing laws that require contraceptive coverage with no cost sharing, without delays or barriers, and/or providing coverage for 12 months of contraception with one prescription, while West Virginia enacted legislation to address a gap in contraceptive coverage for low-income women who have just given birth. These measures become even more timely in light of Congressional efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which includes coverage for most contraception with no co-pays.
  • Several states (AR, FL, NM) considered measures to reduce barriers to accessing long-acting reversible contraception, such as the IUD.
  • Several states moved (but did not pass) bills that protect and promote the health of incarcerated women. Three states (MA, MD, NY) considered bills to prohibit shackling, require prisons and jails to meet health and nutrition standards for pregnant prisoners, and follow through on all of those guarantees after they are enacted into law.
  • Two states moved bills to expand access to contraceptive and related services (CA) or information about them (UT).
  • South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington created programs to address maternal mortality.
  • Colorado, Iowa, and Utah enacted legislation to ensure the rights of pregnant women on the job.

“Even with a majority of statehouses dominated by opponents of reproductive health and rights, advocates and legislators were able to advance policies that improve the lives, health, and futures of women and families. These measures get us closer to a vision of a time when we all have the freedom and ability to control our own lives at the most basic level: our bodies, our families, our life’s path,” said Miller. “Our partners in states across the country and their allies in government are harnessing the momentum of last summer’s Whole Woman’s Health Supreme Court victory and the widespread dissatisfaction with the anti-choice trajectory states have been on to take us in a different, forward direction.”


The National Institute for Reproductive Health works across the country to increase access to reproductive health care by changing public policy, galvanizing public support, and normalizing women’s decisions to have abortions and use contraception. Since 2008, the National Institute has provided nearly $3 million in direct grants, and millions more in hands-on support, to more than 120 organizations in 49 localities and 37 states across the country. In 2017, we are working with partners in 21 states and 9 localities.