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Through increased information and access, the 21st Century Women’s Health Act empowers women across the country to take charge of their health care and their futures

The 21st Century Women’s Health Act challenges elected leaders to stand on the right side of history when it comes to women’s health, equality, and opportunity

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) announced the 21st Century Women’s Health Act, a new bill that would protect and build on progress made on women’s health care. The 21st Century Women’s Health Act invests in women's health clinics and the primary care workforce, and promotes critical preventive services like contraception coverage. The bill also works to provide compassionate assistance for survivors of rape by ensuring all hospitals provide emergency contraception, spreading awareness, and working with community-based groups to help prevent sexual violence.

In a call with reporters and advocates, Murray highlighted that at a critical time in the fight to protect a woman’s right to make her own choices about her own body, the 21st Century Women’s Health Act would challenge elected officials to be on the right side of history when it comes to women’s health, equality, and opportunity. Murray was joined on the call today by Dana Singiser, Vice President for Public Policy and Government Affairs, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Dr. Laurel Kuehl, Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest’s Washington Medical Director.

“I am so proud today to be introducing the 21st Century Women’s Health Act. As we continue to fight back against those who miss the Mad Men era, the 21st Century Women’s Health Act lays out important ways we can and should move forward on women’s health, from maternity care, to preventive health services, to continuing to expand access to birth control, to ensuring survivors of rape have access to emergency contraception in every hospital. Period,” Senator Murray said.“The 21st Century Women’s Health Act would mean that more women across the country have the information and access they need to be in the driver’s seat about their own health care and their own futures.“

"At a time when the GOP congress is trying to drag women back to the last century, we are offering a bold agenda to strengthen women's health in this century," said Senator Boxer.

"Fighting for women's health has been one of my life-long priorities," Senator Mikulski said. "When I first came to the Senate, women's health wasn't a national priority. We've changed that paradigm but there's more to be done. I'll continue to fight for women to get the preventive care and treatment they need to live healthy lives. We must raise awareness, raise consciousness, and raise hell so that women are not left behind when it comes to their health."

“We applaud Senators Murray, Mikulski, and Boxer for the introduction of the 21st Century Women’s Health Act in Congress today. This aptly-named bill not only brings women into the 21st century — it launches us forward,” said Cecile Richards, President, Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “At Planned Parenthood, we’ve seen the progress that comes when women can make their own health care decisions, without politicians standing in the way. Together, through this bill and other efforts, we will keep working to ensure that women across the country have the information and access they need to make decisions about their health care and their futures.”

“Women deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and this bill helps give them the tools they need to lead happy, healthy lives,” said Dr. Laurel Kuehl, Washington Medical Director, Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest. “I’m lucky to practice in a state where elected officials understand that it’s best when decisions are left between me and my patients. I know that for my colleagues across the country — things aren't that easy. That’s why it is so important that we have champions in Congress like Senator Murray working to expand access to health care instead of standing in the way. From contraception to childbearing, a woman’s reproductive well-being is a major part of her health and her economic well-being.”

“The 21st Century Women’s Health Act is the right approach at the right time to improve and protect women’s health,” said Debra L. Ness, President, National Partnership for Women & Families. “This legislation would promote prevention and make it possible for more women to control their reproductive health and make their own health care decisions. By doing so, it would enhance the economic security of women and families. We commend Senators Patty Murray, Barbara Boxer and Barbara Mikulski for championing this vitally important bill.”

“It is time for Congress to strengthen – not obstruct – women’s access to health care, and the 21st Century Women’s Health Act does just that. This bill takes a number of important steps to advance women’s health and well-being. Access to health care, including reproductive health care, is critical to the health and economic security of women and their families,” said Gretchen Borchelt, Acting Vice President for Health and Reproductive Rights, National Women’s Law Center.

Key excerpts from Senator Murray’s bill announcement today:

“I really believe that for women across the country, we are at a critical moment. We’ve made incredible progress when it comes to advancing women’s health and expanding access to reproductive care. As a result, teen pregnancies are now at a 40-year low. At the same time, we’ve seen women become an incredible economic force in our country. The vast majority of women are now breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families. And more women are taking on positions of leadership, from boardrooms to the Senate floor. That’s not only good for women—it’s good for our country.”

“…we’ve come a long way—but there’s no question there is a lot more we need to do. Especially because unfortunately, some elected officials are laser-focused on taking us backwards. They want to make it harder for women to access critical health care services…They are dead set on interfering with personal decisions that should be made between a woman, her doctor, and her partner. And this isn’t just in Congress—there are efforts across the country that would have these very same consequences.”

“I am so proud today to be introducing the 21st Century Women’s Health Act. As we continue to fight back against those who miss the Mad Men era, the 21st Century Women’s Health Act lays out important ways we can and should move forward on women’s health, from maternity care, to preventive health services, to continuing to expand access to birth control, to ensuring survivors of rape have access to emergency contraception in every hospital. Period. The 21st Century Women’s Health Act would mean that more women across the country have the information and access they need to be in the driver’s seat about their own health care and their own futures.“

“…Today I’m calling on elected leaders to stand with women—and on the right side of history—and support the 21st Century Women’s Health Act. Now, I know there are those who will say “no” right off the bat. And my message to them is: I’ve heard that before. It hasn’t stopped me. And it won’t stop women across the country either.”

FACT SHEET: The 21st Century Women’s Health Act

Our country is stronger today because more women are empowered to make their own health care choices. We need to protect that progress and keep building on it. That’s why, at a critical moment in the fight to protect a woman’s right to make her own choices about her own body, Senator Murray is introducing the 21st Century Women’s Health Act and challenging elected leaders to put themselves on the right side of history when it comes to women’s health, equality, and opportunity. The 21st Century Women’s Health Act would help break down outdated barriers to a woman’s reproductive freedom, ensure deeply personal health care choices are put back where they belong—in the hands of American women—and in doing so, help expand opportunity for women across the country.

The 21st Century Women’s Health Act would:

Expand comprehensive preventive health services, including full access to contraceptive coverage for all women served by Medicaid. All private health insurance plans are now required to cover all U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved forms of contraception and all services like breast pumps and breast feeding counseling. To ensure coverage equity across programs, this legislation would extend this requirement to women, men, and families who are served by Medicaid.

Establish a women’s health nurse practitioner training program to expand access to primary care. Nearly two-thirds of Americans see a nurse practitioner (NP) for their primary care health needs.NPs are critical to ensuring access and play an increasingly important role in meeting demand for primary care. To expand access to primary care providers, the 21st Century Women’s Health Act provides training grants for NPs in Title X clinics who specialize in women’s health care. The grants are for a three-year period and can be made permanent or replicated nationally as a model that works to increase quality and lower the cost of care for women and their families.

Improve maternal safety and quality of care. The 21st Century Women’s Health Act grants states the power to start or enhance existing Maternal Mortality Review (MMR) Committees. MMRs examine pregnancy-related and pregnancy-associated deaths to identify ways to prevent future deaths. Only about half of all states have active committees today, creating a significant knowledge gap. Incentivizing the creation and improvement of MMRs will improve data collection and help eliminate disparities in maternal health outcomes.

Create a new ombudsperson role to support women’s access to health services. The Affordable Care Act made great progress in expanding women’s access to health care services. But too oftenstate policies, high costs to patients, and the ongoing need for clinician training in contraceptive methods continue to hinder women from accessing the forms of contraception that have the lowest rates of failure and highest rates of adherence. There have been numerous attempts to allow insurance companies and employers with personal objections to deny women coverage for all FDA approved contraceptive methods, and due to misinformation from insurance companies and pharmacies, many women are struggling to access critical health benefits.As a result, one in 20 women has been denied access to care by a health care provider because of a religious, moral, or personal objection. The 21st Century Women’s Health Act will create a Women’s Health Ombudsperson who can advocate for women, be their voice, and enforce their right to access the best health care services for their needs.

Provide compassionate assistance and awareness for survivors of rape. Although the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that doctors routinely discuss emergency contraception with women of reproductive age during their annual visit, only half of OB/GYNs offer emergency contraception to all of their patients. Unfortunately, emergency contraception remains an underused prevention method in the United States, especially for survivors of sexual assault. It is estimated that 25,000 to 32,000 women become pregnant each year as a result of rape or incest. If used correctly, emergency contraception in conjunction with prompt medical treatment could help many of these rape survivors avoid the additional trauma of facing an unintended pregnancy. However, only 13 states and the District of Columbia require hospital emergency rooms to provide emergency contraception upon request to survivors of sexual assault. Additionally, nine states have enacted restrictions on emergency contraception, including six states that allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense emergency contraception.

The 21st Century Women’s Health Act would ensure that when survivors of sexual assault present at hospitals and clinics, they are provided with free emergency contraception, period, no matter where they live or who owns the hospital. In addition, the Act provides for prevention partnerships with community-based organizations to prevent sexual violence.

Help women report instances of inappropriate charges for birth control and other critical health care needs. The 21st Century Women’s Health Act would help ensure that women are not wrongly forced to pay more for health care services now covered under the Affordable Care Act by creating a reporting database for women to inform Health and Human Services of inappropriate charges.

Examine reproductive health access across the country. Some women in the U.S. must travel 50 miles or more for access to reproductive health services like abortion. Eighty-nine percent of counties lack abortion clinics, and hundreds of laws have been passed at the state and federal level to restrict a women’s access to reproductive health services and family planning services. These developments make it harder for a woman to access her constitutionally protected rights in the 21st Century. This Act would study the harmful effects of trends across the country to restrict access on a woman’s overall health and morbidity.

Launch a public awareness campaign for women’s preventive services. The Affordable Care Act made preventive services, like mammograms, immunizations and contraception coverage, breast-feeding counseling, domestic violence screening, and others available at no cost to women and their families. To ensure women are fully informed about their rights and health care options, the Act would launch a public awareness campaign among community-based organizations, pharmacists, providers and other stakeholders.