In anticipation of regulatory rollbacks and the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the D.C. Council voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to block insurance providers in the District from charging additional fees for preventive women's health services.
The legislation requires insurance providers to offer contraception, breast cancer screening and counseling for sexually transmitted infections without raising co-pays or deductibles. These benefits are required by guidelines released with the Affordable Care Act but are not written into the text of the law and could be erased by federal action.
"Women should not have to pay anything extra for the basic health care they need — not just that they deserve but that they need," said D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who wrote the legislation. "This is incredibly important."
The council voted 12 to 0 in favor of the bill, with member Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4) absent.
Repeated efforts by Republicans to repeal the health-care law have failed. But Allen said that his bill will protect women's health services in the District if Republicans fulfill their seven-year promise to roll back Obamacare.
"When President Trump took office, we knew he was going to try to hurt women. We just knew that," Allen said during a rally Tuesday morning with fellow council members and advocates from Planned Parenthood and NARAL, an abortion rights organization.
The council passed emergency legislation to protect women's health benefits in April, and the Defending Access to Women's Health Care Services Amendment Act of 2017 that it approved Tuesday is the permanent version of that legislation. The bill is scheduled for a second and final vote Jan. 9.
The legislation is then subject to congressional review. But Allen said that if the Republican-controlled Congress objects to the bill, lawmakers should be prepared for strong resistance from D.C. residents.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said she would defend the bill from congressional interference.
"D.C. women are the only U.S. residents whose local jurisdiction is blocked from spending local dollars on abortion services," Norton said in a statement. "Our residents should not also be forced to pay for contraceptives, which make abortions unnecessary, and other essential services, such as cancer screenings. I will fight tirelessly to defend this important D.C. bill from being overturned by Republicans in Congress."
Allen, Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) and Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) said the legislation is especially important to them as parents.
"I remember the day that birth control first became free — it was a day that women across the country celebrated," said Nadeau, who gave birth to a daughter in September. "As a new mom, I'm already thinking about birth control because I want the opportunity to be able to plan and space out my children."
White said thinking about his young daughter growing up in a world where she did not have autonomy over her reproductive health is upsetting.
"It is not okay for women to have to be at the discretion of someone else's beliefs," White said. "That is not the type of country we should live in."