Our Opinion: Protecting rights of women is an issue for all

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Protecting women's reproductive rights in Massachusetts against assaults from Washington will require a team effort among men and women, lawmakers and health insurers. An example of how this works was provided Tuesday on Beacon Hill.

A compromise on a birth control coverage bill was announced before a meeting of the joint Financial Services Committee that will assure access to and coverage for morning-after emergency contraception pill and birth control pills (State House News Service, Eagle, October 4.) The bill initially called for emergency contraception pills to be available without prescription, but under the compromise there will be a standing order available for them at pharmacies. This provision is in response to concerns by the insurance industry that the pills would be used as a substitute for regular birth control and to assure that there are records available at pharmacies to protect against abuse. Birth controls will be made available in 12-month supplies, with a provision that the first supply be for only three months at the request of insurers, who fear that the pills could be wasted.

The compromise was endorsed Tuesday by NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, Planned Parenthood, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans. Groups that may have competing interests coming together for the greater good is the essence of compromise — a lost art in Washington.

The bill's advocates believe it is important to pass the compromise bill into law sooner rather than later in anticipation of the next inevitable "repeal and replace" effort by congressional Republicans of an Affordable Care Act that guarantees co-pay-free coverage for many contraceptives and protects the right of women to have access to them. Supporters also worry that President Trump will chip away at those rights through executive orders or regulatory changes. Planned Parenthood and similar organizations continue to be under assault from anti-abortion groups that are also opposed to contraception, which prevents the unwanted pregnancies that can lead to abortions. By providing free or low-cost screenings, Planned Parenthood is also a leader in the fight against breast and cervical cancer.

Defining these issues as "women's issues" is the epitome of flawed patriarchal thinking, as bill supporter Representative John Scibak articulated succinctly at Tuesday's hearing. "Why am I sitting here as a man?" asked Mr. Scibal. "This is societal. This affects every person in the commonwealth."

While Washington is poisoned and paralyzed by partisanship, Massachusetts has proven that groups that are on different sides of an issue or cause can work together successfully. The willingness of environmentalists and fossil fuel companies and their advocates to work together has produced tangible progress in reducing the emission of gasses that fuel global warming. Groups with disparate interests on contraception have now found common ground on worthy legislation. With threats from Washington always looming, we urge the compromise bill's passage and signing into law in the weeks ahead.


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