Recently, in my home state of New Mexico, lawmakers passed a bill expanding access to contraception. HB 89, known as the Health Coverage for Contraception bill, holds statewide contraception access to an even higher standard than the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This means that New Mexicans will continue to have no co-pays for contraception, regardless of what happens at the federal level to dismantle the ACA.
With continued attempts to chip away at the ACA, statewide protections for contraception access are a necessity.
This legislation also guarantees insurance coverage for pharmacies to dispense up to six months of contraception at one time, and covers hormonal contraceptives as well as vasectomies with no co-payment or coinsurance required.
As a young Latina in her early 20s preparing to leave home for an extended National Guard training across the country, this is particularly impactful. The new law means that I, members of my unit, and other New Mexicans in the armed forces will have improved access to contraception during extended trainings or deployments. It means that I can continue necessary medical treatment even when I do not have direct access to my preferred medical providers.
Having a six-month supply of contraception available is important for many reasons. Perhaps the most commonly assumed reason is to avoid pregnancy. However, many people, myself included, see added benefits to regulating our menstrual cycles. One can imagine why someone would not want to have a period during a months-long, hot, potentially gruesome deployment to a foreign country. I know firsthand that during National Guard trainings, service members are sent out into the field for days and weeks at a time, with access to maybe one or two showers. Contraception to regulate or stop a period is vital for both health and safety during those situations.
Having the ability to control that gift from mother nature keeps many in the military safe from infection that could come with unsanitary conditions, and free from having to manage changing tampons and pads every few hours.
Remarkably, this legislation covers vasectomies and male condoms too, and by doing so, improves gender equity in contraception. Women are often seen as the only ones responsible for taking the necessary precautions for preventing unwanted pregnancies. The truth is, though, men have the same right and responsibility to decide if and when they want to parent within a consensual relationship, and to act accordingly.
Access to a longer supply of contraception is helpful not only for people in the military, but for those living in rural parts of our state where pharmacies and medical providers are not readily available. With some of the barriers to contraception access eliminated under this law, many unwanted pregnancies can be prevented and both men and women can have the ability to take charge of their bodies and make these decisions.
Contraception is critical for my health and that of other New Mexicans. Not only does contraception help maintain my health and safety and prevent unwanted pregnancy, it is necessary for protection from sexually transmitted infections. The new law fully covers over-the-counter contraception, including condoms, which are the most effective method of STI protection. A 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed steep increases in the rates of syphilis and gonorrhea, and found exceptionally high chlamydia rates in New Mexico. These preventable STIs could be significantly affected by making access to condoms equitably available to all people.
I am proud to live in a state where my reproductive health is acknowledged and protected. New Mexico is one of several states that took steps this year to expand access to contraception, and I’m comforted to know that regardless of my training location, or my reproductive health-care needs across my life, I will have access to no-cost contraception available in six-month increments.