New Report Documents Innovative City-Level Policies Passed in 2020 to Protect Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice During the COVID-19 Pandemic

December 2, 2020
Contact: Kelly Novak, [email protected]

NEW YORK – The National Institute for Reproductive Health (NIRH) today released a new report, Protecting Reproductive Freedom in Cities and Counties During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Local Reproductive Freedom Index Special Report, documenting the promising policies and practices of localities as they work to address the intersection of the pandemic and reproductive health, rights, and justice. This Special Report is part of the Local Index for Reproductive Freedom series, a biannual initiative first launched in 2017 to evaluate the reproductive health, rights, and justice policies of U.S. cities across every region of the country. The Special Report provides a roadmap for how localities can respond to the ongoing pandemic and its aftereffects in ways that center and advance reproductive freedom.

“In a year when the federal government utterly failed to control the pandemic or mitigate its impact on people’s lives, we saw a number cities and counties stepping up to do what was in their power to protect access to abortion care and undertake other initiatives to support the well-being of their communities,” said Andrea Miller, President of the National Institute for Reproductive Health. “Though local governments could never make up for the full scope of the Trump-Pence administration’s failures, many worked under significant financial pressure to develop creative, intentional, and impactful policies and practices that meet pressing needs in their communities, including for reproductive health, rights, and justice.”

NIRH analyzed some of the innovative policies and practices undertaken by cities across the country in 2020, following the holistic and visionary framework of the Local Index for Reproductive Freedom. The report demonstrates that many bright spots exist and charts a roadmap for other cities to follow suit.

The Protecting Reproductive Freedom in Cities and Counties During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Local Reproductive Freedom Index Special Report found the following highlights of actions cities have taken to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Several cities sought to protect access to abortion clinics. Both Austin, TX and New York City allocated municipal funding to support abortion access. The Austin City Council reallocated $100 million from the Austin Police Department to community programs and policies, including an investment of $250,000 in practical support for abortion care—a $100,000 increase from the previous year. And the New York City Council renewed $250,000 in funding to the New York Abortion Access Fund.
  • Cities addressed young people’s access to care. The Genesee County Health Department in Michigan launched a new public awareness campaign encouraging young people to contact the health department for free and confidential family planning care. And in Florida many county courts have established remote procedures in response to the pandemic, including those for minors to access judicial bypass.
  • Columbus, OH, allocated funding to assist small minority-, and woman-owned local businesses impacted by COVID-19.
  • Chicago passed an ordinance barring employers from firing or demoting an employee for staying home from work during the COVID-19 crisis, including staying home to care for an individual required to quarantine.
  • Philadelphia passed a paid sick leave bill requiring all employers—including small employers and those employing gig workers—to provide two weeks of paid sick leave.
  • San Francisco allocated $10 million towards financial relief for undocumented and extremely low-income families, and it is currently piloting a universal basic income program that will provide 150 Black and Pacific Islander women $1,000 per month for the duration of their pregnancy and six months postpartum.
  • Harris County, TX, invested $1 million of its own dollars alongside CARES Act funding to expand polling places, including a drive-through option, extend early voting, and process mail-in ballots more quickly to ensure voters could cast their ballots as safely as possible.
  • Oakland, CA, passed a bill halting evictions and banning rent increases and late fees during the pandemic.

“With communities across the country suffering the impact of the pandemic – and with the burdens falling hardest on marginalized communities, particularly Black and brown women – this is a critical time for local elected officials to reimagine cities as places that center the ability of each and every person to live, work, and make decisions about their health and future with dignity and economic security,” Miller said. “Every local government can do something proactive, right now — from enacting and/or enforcing mask mandates for clinic protestors to committing to funding for abortion care. While every community may have different needs and resources, every community also has the opportunity to enact proactive policies.”

NIRH works to protect and advance access to reproductive health care and build political power for reproductive freedom, primarily at the state and local levels. NIRH produces a bi-annual Local Reproductive Freedom Index that serves as both a snapshot and a roadmap for proactive reproductive health, rights, and justice practices and policies in cities and states across the country. In mid-December, NIRH will also release a companion report citing the proactive policies that moved at the state level across the country in 2020, documenting the innovative and forward-looking work advocates and state legislators are accomplishing to advance reproductive freedom in the midst of a pandemic.


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. Our strategy is to go on the offensive to pass laws that safeguard reproductive freedom. NIRH partners with communities to build coalitions, launch campaigns, and successfully advocate for policy change, so the fabric of reproductive freedom is harder to tear apart.