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A package of bills from the Hawaii Women’s Legislative Caucus includes a measure to require health insurers and health maintenance groups to provide comprehensive coverage for reproductive services such as abortions.
“I think it’s just important for us as women that we get accurate sex education, accurate reproductive rights information,” said Sen. Roz Baker, one of the authors of Senate Bill 2341. “And we want to make sure that Medicaid can still pay for our low-income women, that it’s a part of all of the health plans that are provided, and that people have access to the good information.”
But the bill preserves the right of employers to not provide a plan with coverage of those services, based on religious beliefs, as long as they notify their employees that the services are available.
SB 2341 is a follow-up of sorts to Senate Bill 501, a controversial measure that was signed into law last year. It requires that all limited-service pregnancy centers disclose the availability of and enrollment information for reproductive health services.
Anti-abortion groups sued the state over SB 501, arguing that the law now known as Act 200 violates clinics’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religion.
Dana Viola, special assistant to the Hawaii attorney general, said the case has been stayed pending the outcome of NIFLA vs. Becerra, a lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court. NIFLA stands for the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, whose affiliate includes Calvary Chapel Pearl Harbor.
Baker, who also co-authored SB 501, said it was intended to address problems associated with what she called “the so-called pregnancy centers, which were not giving people good options.”
SB 2341, along with its companion House Bill 2127, calls for care providers to cover a range of services. They include counseling and screening for sexually transmitted disease, abortion, contraceptives and voluntary sterilization for women.
“I think it’s just important for us as women that we get accurate sex education, accurate reproductive rights information.” — Sen. Roz Baker
The legislation, which would also apply to what are called “mutual benefit societies” — nonprofits that help members of certain groups — addresses other matters as well.
“We’ve long had protections for reproductive health rights, and insurance covers it,” said Rep. Della Au Belatti, a co-author of HB 2127. But it’s needed, she said in case “the federal government changes its standards.”
The White House and Congress are controlled by Republicans, many of whom have very different ideas about health care than Democrats.
“There is more work to be done in reaching communities across the state, but the Women’s Legislative Caucus package of bills seeks to ensure that, among other things, Hawaii women will continue to have access to affordable reproductive health care despite attacks by the federal government,” said Laurie Field, legislative director for Planned Parenthood Hawaii. “Notably, the caucus doesn’t leave anyone behind — it increases access, so that thousands of people in Hawaii can afford health care regardless of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, citizenship status, or income.”
The reproductive health bill is part of the 2018 Women’s Legislative Caucus package.
The caucus, in existence for over two decades, includes all female members of the Hawaii Legislature — currently, 15 in the House (including three Republicans) and seven in the Senate.
Other measures in the 2018 package include House Bill 2131 and its companion, Senate Bill 2345. The measures call for the creation of a Hawaii Sexual Assault Team to ensure that rape evidence collection kits are processed and tracked.
Hawaii has struggled to test a large backlog of untested “rape kits” in the possession of county police departments.
Rep. Linda Ichiyama, introducer of HB 2131, said her legislation is intended to improve on existing law that was enacted in 2016.
“We are making progress on testing of all of the backlog kits, and all of the kits until June 30, 2016, eligible for testing have been submitted for testing,” she said. “The law is to make sure that we never have a backlog again.”
Ichiyama said the new legislation sets forth “very clear timelines for law enforcement” to test the kits. It also requires a tracking system so that victims know the status of their kit throughout the process.
One measure introduced this year failed to make the cut last year.
Senate Bill 2347 and its companion House Bill 2133 make clear that a complaint against a police officer alleging domestic abuse against a family or household member “on the part of the police officer” would not require notarization or a sworn written statement.
Sen. Laura Thielen, a co-author of SB 2347, said the point of the legislation is to protect the identity of victims to avoid retaliation.
“Sometimes bills fall between the cracks, so we are going to take another shot at it this time,” said Thielen.
The women’s caucus unveiled its legislative priorities at the Richards Street YWCA in Honolulu Wednesday morning.
The package also includes legislation related to child health and safety, and economic opportunities for women.