Flanked by lawmakers and state officials Monday, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law a measure designed to expand access to birth control options.
In remarks before signing H.620, Shumlin referenced initiatives in other states to restrict access to contraception, including the recent Oklahoma bill that would have allowed felony charges for doctors who performed abortions.
"So it's a disheartening time for women across America," Shumlin said. He trumpeted Vermont's bill as bucking the discourse at the national level.
"At a time when our country is headed in the wrong direction, I'm proud to say Vermont continues to head in the right direction," Shumlin said.
The law requires insurers to cover the full cost of all contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration, as well as to cover the full cost of vasectomies for men.
The legislation strives to expand access to different types of birth control. It increases the reimbursement rates under Medicaid for long-acting contraceptive methods, such as intrauterine devices, which are increasingly favored within the medical field for their effectiveness. Also, women will be able to get up to 12 months of oral contraceptives during a single medical appointment.
The bill also takes on an aspect of prenatal health by changing the rules regarding signing up for health care. When women become pregnant, they will be able to get a health care plan immediately, instead of waiting for the next open enrollment period.
Meagan Gallagher, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, hailed the legislation as "the most comprehensive birth control access bill in the country."
"Access to birth control is one of the most powerful empowerment and anti-poverty initiatives we have, and yet in Vermont, women still face barriers to birth control," Gallagher said.
According to Gallagher, half of pregnancies in Vermont are unplanned — a trend that disproportionately affects low-income women, she said.
Rep. Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington, chair of the House Human Services Committee and the lead sponsor of the bill, emphasized the wide support it had from legislators across party lines. "This is not a partisan issue," she said.
She said she believes the new law will reduce the state's unintended pregnancy rate.
"Where you work should not determine whether or not you have access to affordable birth control," Pugh said. "Your gender should not determine whether or not you have access to affordable and effective birth control."
Like the governor, House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, remarked that the legislation sets Vermont apart from other states.
"It's actually a little sad that we have to be here today when you see what is happening around this country," Smith said.
"This is about making sure that women of the next generation and this generation have the opportunity to control their own bodies, but it's also about men taking part in birth control," Smith said.