YEAR IN REVIEW: National Institute for Reproductive Health Drives Wave of Progress for Reproductive Freedom at State and Local Level

December 19, 2019
Contact: Liza Dee, [email protected], 860-304-2294

For NIRH and its Action Fund, 2019 Was a Year of Protecting Access to Abortion in States and Localities, Breaking Down Barriers to Contraception, and Overcoming Anti-Abortion Attacks to Win Elections

New York – While the Trump administration and its allies in conservative state legislatures waged war on access to reproductive health care, the National Institute for Reproductive Health (NIRH) and its Action Fund helmed the passage of critical state legislation to protect Roe v. Wade, innovated new policy opportunities on the municipal level, removed barriers to care, and fought back against damaging misinformation campaigns set forth by anti-abortion extremists – securing important electoral wins in the process.

“For many years, NIRH’s model has been to build power in states and cities to advance reproductive freedom, and 2019 was a watershed year in securing crucial victories at the state and local level, in the face of attacks from the federal and so many state governments.” said Andrea Miller, president of NIRH and the NIRH Action Fund. “Change starts from the ground up, and NIRH is proud to have worked in the states to secure and protect legislative wins from New York to Illinois, to have helped elect champions for abortion access in Virginia, and to have expanded the vision of what’s possible when it comes to protecting and advancing reproductive freedom. In the year ahead, we will continue to build on that momentum.” 

Protecting the fundamental right to abortion in the states

NIRH and its Action Fund plunged headfirst into 2019 by leading the charge to pass the Reproductive Health Act in New York State, paving the way for more states to pass laws protecting abortion access than ever before.

In January, the Action Fund launched a half-million-dollar public education campaign calling for immediate passage of the RHA, which safeguards the fundamental right to abortion in New York State, decriminalizes abortion, and ensures access to care regardless of a blow to Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court. The RHA was signed into law on January 22, 2019, the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

NIRH worked with state advocates in Illinois and Vermont this year as they passed laws to codify the fundamental right to abortion, applying the lessons learned from New York to ensure that anti-abortion backlash and misinformation did not derail those bills. NIRH also supported its partners’ efforts in New Jersey to pass a law to keep reproductive health care providers and staff safe by protecting their private information. In Connecticut and Massachusetts, NIRH worked with state partners to move their proactive bills through the legislature, setting the stage for passage in 2020. As NIRH reported in its 2019 Midyear Report, California, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada, and Rhode Island also passed proactive bills to safeguard abortion access – meaning more states protected abortion access this year than in any previous year.

Writing for The Washington Post, NIRH president Andrea Miller summarized the importance of these landmark laws: “Even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, giving anti-choice legislators an opportunity to turn even more of the country into ‘abortion deserts,’ we still have options to preserve the oases women need so badly to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.” 

Innovating opportunities on the local level

In 2019, NIRH broke new ground in securing wins for reproductive freedom in cities and counties.

The organization was at the forefront of a growing movement at the municipal level to remove financial obstacles to abortion care. In June, the NIRH Action Fund was instrumental in securing $250,0000 in New York City’ FY2020 budget for the New York Abortion Access Fund, making New York the first city in the nation to directly fund abortion care.

Following the first-of-its-kind effort in New York, NIRH provided counsel to groups on the ground in Austin, including the Lilith Fund and NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, who in turn secured $150,000 in city funding for practical support for abortion care, including transportation, lodging, childcare, doula, and emotional support to Austinites. The funding makes Austin a bright spot as an increasingly complex web of Texas abortion restrictions create new obstacles for patients.

And in St. Louis City and County, NIRH partnered with NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri to protect the reproductive health of incarcerated people by requiring access to quality prenatal and postpartum health care, nutritious food, and sanitary products.

Summarizing the range of possibilities to advance reproductive health, rights and justice at the local level, NIRH launched its biennial Local Reproductive Freedom Index in October, providing a snapshot of the policies of 50 cities across the United States, and offering a roadmap for cities to follow. Acting on the possibilities at the local level and prompted by the launch of the Local Index, the Atlanta City Council initiated a Reproductive Justice Commission dedicated to improving public health outcomes related to maternal, infant, and reproductive health, including abortion care. This Commission will serve as a counterbalance to the state’s efforts to ban abortion entirely.

Striking Down Barriers to Contraceptive Access

In 2019, NIRH worked with state partners to secure several wins to expand access to long acting reversible contraception (LARC), such as IUDs and implants. NIRH supported advocates in Arizona and New Mexico to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates to make these devices more accessible.

Back in Albany, NIRH successfully pushed for passage of New York State’s Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, which expands access to contraception, including emergency contraception, by requiring health insurers to cover contraception without a co-payment.

Combating Misinformation Campaigns, Winning Elections

In response to the multitude of proactive actions taken at the state level – including laws dedicated to enshrining Roe – the anti-abortion camp in 2019 launched a calculated misinformation campaign designed to sow confusion and opposition to our successes. NIRH fought back.

In New York, NIRH led a public campaigns throughout the first several months of the year to pass and then continue to demonstrate support for the RHA, and in Illinois and Vermont, NIRH launched campaigns to set the record straight and spread factual information about the benefits of proactive abortion policies that established fundamental rights to abortion access in those states. 

In the Virginia election, the NIRH Action Fund worked with partners to mount an electoral program that confronted the same inflammatory and misleading attacks against abortion. Cutting through the misinformation to connect with voters’ support for abortion access was essential, and the NIRH Action Fund worked with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia to train 44 candidates and candidates’ campaigns – including every candidate that flipped a seat in the Virginia General Assembly, helping them articulate their support and vision for reproductive freedom across the Commonwealth. This electoral program also supported seven candidates for statehouse and demonstrated that protecting abortion access is a galvanizing issue that drives voter turnout, and that candidates can win by demonstrating support for access to abortion. 

“As we close out the decade, NIRH has gained significant ground by targeting states and localities as the battleground for protecting access to abortion” Miller said. “In 2020, we will continue to capitalize on this momentum, activate voters, and advance reproductive health, rights and justice – in communities, cities, and states nationwide.”


The National Institute for Reproductive Health builds power at the state and local level to change public policy, galvanize public support, and normalize women’s decisions about abortion and contraception. 

Using a partnership model, NIRH provides state and local advocates with strategic guidance, hands-on support, and funding to create national change from the ground up. We form strategic partnerships with a wide range of organizations to directly impact the reproductive health and lives of women across the country. Each year, NIRH works in at least 20 states and more than a dozen localities; to date, NIRH has partnered with 175 reproductive health, rights, and justice organizations in 43 states and 64 localities across the country.