New York Governor Vows to Protect Reproductive Health-Care Access

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's announcement is the latest move by New York officials to shore up reproductive health-care access during the anti-choice Trump administration.

Cuomo’s actions mark the next step in his administration's “New York’s Promise to Women: Ever Upward” initiative, an ongoing effort to improve women’s rights throughout the state. John Moore/Getty Images

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) last weekend unveiled regulations designed to protect the reproductive rights of New Yorkers by this spring.

Cuomo’s announcement, which coincided with the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade and the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., will require health insurers to adhere to new rules from the New York Department of Financial Services.

The regulations will ensure that commercial health insurance policies cover contraceptive drugs and devices in at least one form recognized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), without co-pays, coinsurance, or deductibles. The contraception will be available “in amounts exceeding one month’s supply at a time,” regardless of what Congressional Republicans do in dismantling the Affordable Care Act, Cuomo’s office said.

The regulations will ensure insurance polices cover medically necessary abortion services at no additional cost.

State documents show that the abortion regulations include a religious imposition exemption, while mandating that every insured person maintain “the same rights to coverage without additional payment.”

Cuomo’s actions mark the next step in his administration’s “New York’s Promise to Women: Ever Upward” initiative, an effort to bolster women’s rights throughout the state. Previous actions include raising the minimum wage and signing a sexual assault prevention law.

Plans for the new regulations emerged days after the Democratic-dominated New York State Assembly passed the Reproductive Health Act (RHA) and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act (CCCA).

The bills, which seek to protect abortion rights and contraception coverage under the ACA regardless of federal action, are pending approval in the New York Senate, where Democrats hold a one-seat majority.

Christie Petrone, spokesperson for the National Institute for Reproductive Health (NIRH), told Rewire in an email that while the organization welcomes and supports Cuomo’s efforts, the RHA and CCCA are still necessary to “fully protect women’s reproductive rights in New York.”

“Legislative change would best ensure the full extent of our rights. Specific to contraception, the CCCA goes further and provides more expansive coverage for women and men,” Petrone said. “The new abortion-related rules are specific to insurance coverage, which, while incredibly important, is only one part of protecting women’s right to and access to abortion in the state.”

Proponents of the RHA changes say the law needs to be updated to reflect current medical practices and to guarantee that residents can access reproductive health care later in pregnancy, as Rewire reported.

“The CCCA removes out-of-pocket expenses for vasectomies and improves New Yorkers’ ability to access Emergency Contraception in a timely manner, in addition to provisions similar to those the governor has put forward,” Bowman Kim Atkins, board chair of Family Planning Advocates of New York State, said in an email to Rewire. Atkins is also president of Planned Parenthood of Mohawk Hudson.

Family Planning Advocates of New York argues on its website that despite the ACA’s promise to provide women access to contraceptives without copays, New Yorkers continue to face obstacles and financial barriers when seeking birth control.

The CCCA aims to address this by directing insurers to cover the full range of contraceptives defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The legislation would cover contraceptives prescribed to men and would “allow patients to access emergency contraception (EC) at a pharmacy with a non-patient specific prescription and have it covered,” among other benefits.

Atkins added that the RHA goes beyond Cuomo’s regulations by “protecting the right to choose or refuse abortion and to choose or refuse contraception.”

Cuomo’s effort, like the state assembly’s passage of the RHA and CCCA, is a response to federal threats to reproductive health care.

The Trump administration is stacked with anti-choice stalwarts, and the new administration has re-instituted an “expanded global gag rule” that restricts reproductive health care for women, girls, and pregnant people in developing countries. Trump is expected to appoint an anti-choice justice to the U.S. Supreme Court next week.

Cuomo Spokesperson Elizabeth Bibi told Rewire in an email that the governor’s office will continue to support the RHA and “hopes that legislature can reach [an] agreement to pass it.”

Bibi said the regulations will likely go into effect by May to accommodate the 45-day notice and public comment process.

In the meantime, the financial services department has released a letter reminding health insurers of their obligations to cover contraceptive drugs and devices without any co-pays or deductibles.