At the beginning term of the 110th Congress, on January 4, 2007, Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced the Prevention First Act (S.21), a package of legislation that sought to prevent unintended pregnancy and increase access to comprehensive contraceptive services and information.
It would have increased funding for the Title X family planning program, which provides high-quality preventative health care to low-income individuals.
It would have strengthened Medicaid coverage of family planning services.
It would have required states to extend coverage for family planning services and supplies.
It also would have ensured contraception equity in health insurance plans by requiring private health plans to cover FDA-approved contraceptives and related medical services to the same extent that they covered other prescription drugs and outpatient medical services.
What happened to this significant, comprehensive, women-friendly legislation?
It was read twice, and then referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. In other words, it died.
Then on January 6, 2009, at the beginning of the term of the 111th Congress, Senator Reid again brought this Act to the Senate floor. It had died in the previous session, but Senator Reid realized the need to bring The Prevention First Act out of Committee and push its enactment into law.
Support had grown, and nineteen organization supported this bill. Among those were Planned Parenthood, the Presbyterian Church (USA), Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, NARAL, the ACLU, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Medical Student Association.
What an august and influential group of supporters!
Four organizations opposed the bill, including the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, Concerned Women for America, Family Research Council, and One Nation Under God.
One right-to-life group, The Americans United For Life (AUL), maligned the legislation, and distorted it for its own propaganda purposes by putting a dire religious spin on it, saying that the legislation:
1) Provided elevated funding for family planning services and “teen pregnancy prevention programs” that counsel in favor of abortion. (Not true.)
2) Mandated health coverage of contraception, with no room for conscientious objection, forcing churches to choose between violating their religious beliefs or refraining from offering health coverage at all. (Not true.)
Further, the AUL claimed, this “federal ultimatum” was irresponsible at best, or demonstrated a maliciousness toward religiously-affiliate entities, at worst.
3) The AUL stated the legislation was misleading in the way emergency contraception (EC) worked—preventing pregnancy by preventing ovulation, fertilization of an egg, or implantation of an egg in the uterus.
No, AUL states, it is not an egg that is prevented from implanting, it is a fertilized egg! (emphasis mine). According to AUL, conception has occurred, and a new human organism, with its own genetic information, has been formed.
As I stated in a previous blog, the feeling is that destroying a (virtually sacred) fertilized egg, thereby preventing a pregnancy, is tantamount to terminating a pregnancy.
This is the type of contraceptive Hobby Lobby (not a religious organization, which was AUL’s contention in 2009, but a private, for-profit corporation) took a stand against.
That the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby on June 30, 2014 in this regard, tells us that the reach of the Catholic Church and the Fundamentalist Religious Right has infiltrated not only for-profit, multi-billion dollar corporations, but also the highest court in the land.
Oh…and what happened to the 2009 re-introduction of the Prevention First Act by Senator Reid? It was read twice, and then referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Again, it died.
In between, on March 23, 2010, the ACA became the law, and it mandated employer coverage of birth control medications and devices, including emergency contraception.
Religious organizations (many only loosely-affiliated with religion) took up the cry about the violation of their religious beliefs.
The test case was Hobby Lobby. We know the outcome of that.
One must wonder if the Democrats saw this coming, because on May 13, 2014, the Prevention First Act was, yet again, re-introduced by Senator Reid. Perhaps it was done in an effort to head off the anticipated decision by the Supreme Court.
So, where does the Prevention First Act stand now, more than seven-and-a-half years after it was introduced?
It was read twice, and then referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
So while Congress couldn’t be bothered over those many years to protect a woman’s right to contraception, counseling, and affordable prevention and termination of pregnancy, the religious faction moved forward, full steam ahead, and received a ruling by the Supreme Court that now makes this legislation irrelevant.