Pennsylvania House Bill Guaranteeing Women Access to Contraception Actually Passed with Some GOP Support. We’ll See About the State Senate

“One hundred thirty-three yes votes on birth control means lawmakers in Harrisburg are realizing that voters in Pennsylvania do not want politicians deciding their birth control questions,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Leanne Krueger.
Activists in support of the Affordable Care Act's contraception madate outside the Supreme Court in Washington during oral arguments for Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, 2014. Photo courtesy of American Life League, CC BY-NC 2.0.

A bill guaranteeing Pennsylvanians access to zero cost contraception has passed overwhelmingly in the commonwealth’s House of Representatives. The bill, in one form or another, waited seven years to pass through committee and to the floor for a vote. And now advocates for the legislation are steeling themselves as they send it to the Republican-controlled senate.

Earlier this week, by a vote of 133-69, HB1140 (“An Act providing for access to contraceptives; imposing duties on the Insurance Department and the Department of Human Services; and imposing penalties”), cleared the state’s lower chamber. Thirty-two Republicans joined Democrats – including all but one Bucks County Republican, Rep. Craig Staats – to assure the bill passed.

Sponsored by Delaware County Democratic Rep. Leanne Krueger, the bill requires private insurers as well as publicly funded healthcare benefits to be covered one hundred percent of contraceptive costs – including over the counter medication – with zero co-pay to the insured.

Krueger, thrilled with the size of the margin her bill received, explained, “We expected bi-partisan support.” But a two-thirds margin means more than just approval: “133 yes votes on birth control means lawmakers in Harrisburg are realizing that voters in Pennsylvania do not want politicians deciding their birth control questions.”

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Brandon Cwalina, Press Secretary for the PA Department of Human Services (DHS), says that – at this point – it won’t change much for their patients, “DHS already covers contraception through Medicaid and CHIP by a matter of practice; this legislation will simply codify it.” Meaning that – should executive policy change – the commonwealth’s practice of covering contraception would not.

“DHS oversees Family Planning Services, which provides coverage of family planning and certain family planning-related services, pharmaceuticals and supplies for men and women who are enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP as well as those who would not otherwise be eligible for Medicaid and have income at or below 215% of the Federal Poverty Level.” Cwalina encouraged Pennsylvanians who think they may qualify to visit the DHS website.

READ: Congressional Democrats Renew Push to Protect Access to Birth Control

Signe Espinoza, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, knows that contraception is one of the world’s top 10 healthcare advances of the 20th Century. And while a little surprised by the overwhelming support HB 1140 received, she’s grateful that the legislature was finally able to vote on a bill that had for so long been blocked by former House Speaker, Lancaster State Rep. Bryan Cutler.

To sponsors and those who voted in favor of the measure, proof of popularity with constituents matters. Consequently, Krueger explains, there’s a lot at stake, “I have introduced this bill every year since 2020, and another version since 2017. Meanwhile we have fought abortion bans, mandated burial of miscarriages – which isn’t even scientifically possible – when we were under the control of an anti-choice republican speaker who voted no on this.”

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Krueger issues a stark warning going forward, “If we lose the House in November we will go backwards.” She sees Dobbs as only the beginning. “Clarence Thomas told us so in his concurrent opinion, they’re coming for Griswold v Connecticut.” Krueger refers to the Supreme Court decision overturning an 1879 law banning contraception use.

Cementing a person’s right to bodily autonomy is Krueger’s goal, “We have no state laws addressing contraception access in Pennsylvania. [HB 1140] expands what is an acceptable norm,” and guarantees availability on demand if it passes the PA senate.

And while it’s still unclear which committee the bill will be sent to, Senators Maria Collett and Judith Schwank are prepared to shepherd it through – to the extent the Republican-controlled upper chamber will allow.

READ: There Are Now Fewer Barriers to Birth Control In Pennsylvania, Unless You Are Poor

Sen. Collett would like her fellow lawmakers to explore the big picture this legislation represents. “It’s not just about preventing pregnancy. Women make up more than half the population in the commonwealth. We must make sure they have access to every healthcare necessity, to assure their health.”

Espinoza isn’t so sure that enough Republican senators will see it that way. She urges Krueger and her fellow house lawmakers to appreciate the size of their win – in case the bill fails in the senate. “The passage of this bill itself is, in many ways, a victory. We’re looking at a bill that hasn’t been brought forward for a vote in five or six sessions.”

Espinoza continued, “Seeing the bi-partisan support this is something we should act on. Our biggest take away is that we had a bipartisan vote to expand access to reproductive health in a post-Dobbs world.”

Despite the shift in the house, Espinoza fears politics may still get in the way. “We know that some folks have played politics with bodily autonomy. If it goes before the Health and Human Services committee [it may not make it out] because Michele Brooks is not supportive of sexual reproductive healthcare on the whole.”

As for Collett, she’s more optimistic. “We need to build a coalition. While I do believe we have legitimate concerns that one member could hold this up, if one person opposes we need seven others who don’t.”

Collett also believes the chances are good that the bill will go before the Banking and Insurance committee chaired by Sen. John DiSanto who serves in the Harrisburg area, representing parts of Dauphin and Perry Counties.

READ: The Game-Changing Promise of an OTC Birth Control Pill

Collett and Shwank don’t have a timeline or even a number assigned to the bill in their chamber, but they’re excited to get to work regardless of the obstacles. Collett said, “Everyone has personal beliefs wrapped up in an issue like this. We want to talk about this in the healthcare space – it’s another piece of the healthcare puzzle.”

Meanwhile, back in the districts, healthcare professionals like nurse midwife and certified registered nurse practitioner, Iris Wolfson, with a practice that’s served people from Bucks County for decades, welcomes the news. “It’s incredibly important to have good contraceptive care. It’s a human right to be able to decide the choices you make over your own body.”

Additionally, Wolfson applauds the elimination of co-pays – seeing the removal of financial barriers as a significant step toward healthcare equity.

She’s also got a message for the upper chamber, “They should look at their own rights as human beings. Would they want to have their rights taken away?” She recommends that her fellow constituents, “put it back on them. Don’t they [the senators] want to choose whether they reproduce or do not reproduce?”

Bucks County Rep. Tim Brennan can’t read the tea leaves on how HB 1140 will play out. While pleased that nearly all his fellow Bucks County house lawmakers voted in favor of the measure, he declines to predict what Pennsylvania senate Republican leadership will do. “There are no longer any logical underpinnings to republican policy on choice.”

If his colleagues refuse to hear the measure in the senate, Brennan says, “It’ll be bad for the people of Pennsylvania that the republicans in the senate could be so disconnected that they are failing to consider many reasonable bills that the people are screaming to have enacted, including contraception and choice.”

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Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche is a freelance journalist and author. She lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband. Pat has written nine books on poverty and homelessness.

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