For Immediate Release: Wednesday, June 2, 2021
Sacramento—Yesterday, the California Senate voted 32 to 5 to pass SB 523, the Contraceptive Equity Act of 2021. SB 523 would expand and modernize California’s birth control laws and benefits and ensure greater contraceptive equity statewide, regardless of an individual’s gender or insurance coverage status. The bill was introduced by state Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) and is co-sponsored by Essential Access Health, NARAL Pro-Choice California, and the National Health Law Program.
If enacted, SB 523 will make contraceptive coverage without cost-sharing gender-inclusive, require coverage of over-the-counter birth control options, expand contraceptive coverage benefits to millions of Californians, including state employees and individuals enrolled in university or college health plans, and clearly prohibit employers from discriminating against their employees based on their contraceptive and reproductive health decisions.
SB 523 now heads to the Assembly. In response to the bill’s advancement, bill co-sponsors Essential Access Health, NARAL Pro-Choice California, and the National Health Law Program released the following joint statement:
“Yesterday’s vote aligns with California’s legacy of expanding access to birth control. SB 523 will bring us one step closer to making contraceptive equity a reality statewide. Birth control is essential health care. All Californians, regardless of their income level, gender identity, health insurance plan, or where they live or work, need and deserve equitable access to contraception—without any unnecessary delays or discrimination. We are proud to partner with Senator Leyva to advance SB 523 to help more Californians get the birth control method they want, when they need it and codify more equitable contraceptive benefits into state law.”
State Senator Connie M. Leyva, author of the bill, said:
“SB 523 strengthens the ability of Californians to receive timely access to birth control, as well as reduces barriers to contraceptive care by creating greater health equity across the state. By making California’s contraceptive laws and benefits more equitable, I am confident that we will be able to reduce the ongoing health disparities in reproductive health outcomes for people of color, low-income Californians, and young adults. I appreciate working alongside our bill sponsors and so many other wonderful organizations and people that continue to prioritize reproductive health care for all Californians.”
In 2014, SB 1053 (Mitchell)—requiring Medi-Cal managed care and most commercial health plans to cover all FDA-approved contraceptive methods without co-pays, cost-sharing, or restrictions like step-therapy or prior authorization—was signed into law. Since SB 1053 was enacted, several states have expanded access to birth control even further by requiring health plans to cover over-the-counter birth control pills, condoms and vasectomies, and other equitable birth control methods on the horizon. Also, in 2016, SB 999 (Pavley)—ensuring that most health insurance plans in California cover a year’s supply of birth control dispensed at once—was chaptered. California was a pioneer in enacting these measures, and, since then, other states have built on the state’s successes. Now California has the opportunity to lead once again on contraceptive equity issues.
In spite of the progress already made in California, health disparities in reproductive health outcomes persist among Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), including disproportionate unintended pregnancy, infant and maternal mortality, and STI rates. The COVID-19 public health emergency has also further highlighted the structural inequities that disproportionately affect youth, people with low incomes, and communities of color in accessing birth control services. A report by the Guttmacher Institute revealed that 38% of Black women and 45% of Latinas—compared to 29% of white women—now face difficulties accessing birth control as a result of the pandemic. Women with lower incomes were also more likely than women with higher incomes to report having experienced delays or having been unable to get contraceptive care because of the pandemic (36% vs. 31%).
For over 50 years, NARAL Pro-Choice America and its network of state affiliates and chapters have fought to protect and advance reproductive freedom—including access to abortion, contraception, and paid family leave—for every body. NARAL is powered by its more than 2.5 million members from every state and congressional district in the country, representing the 7 in 10 Americans who believe every person should have the freedom to make the best decision for themselves about if, when, and how to raise a family.