Senate Approves Leyva Bill Expanding Access to Birth Control in California

SB 523 Supported by Health Care, Legal, Business, Education Organizations

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

SACRAMENTO – Prioritizing the ability of Californians to receive timely access to birth control and ensure greater contraceptive equity statewide, the California State Senate today passed Senate Bill 523 authored by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) that will expand and modernize birth control access in California regardless of an individual’s gender, insurance coverage status, where they work or where they go to school.

Jointly sponsored by Essential Access Health, NARAL Pro-Choice California, and the National Health Law Program, SB 523 seeks to make California’s birth control benefits gender inclusive, require coverage of over-the-counter birth control options, expand contraceptive coverage benefits to Californians enrolled in state employee and university and college health plans, and clarify that employers in California may not discriminate or retaliate against their employees based on their personal contraceptive or reproductive health decisions.

“SB 523 strengthens the ability of Californians to receive timely access to birth control, as well as reduces barriers to contraceptive care by creating greater health equity across the state,” Senator Leyva said.  “By making California’s contraceptive laws and benefits more equitable, I am confident that we will be able to reduce the ongoing health disparities in reproductive health outcomes for people of color, low-income Californians and young adults.  I appreciate working alongside our bill sponsors and so many other wonderful organizations and people that continue to prioritize reproductive health care for all Californians.”

In 2014, SB 1053 (Mitchell)—requiring Medi-Cal managed care and most commercial health plans to cover all FDA-approved contraceptive methods without co-pays, cost-sharing or restrictions like step-therapy or prior authorization—was signed into law.  Since SB 1053 was enacted, several states have expanded access to birth control even further by requiring health plans to cover over-the-counter birth control pills, condoms and vasectomies and other male birth control methods on the horizon.  Also, in 2016, SB 999 (Pavley)—ensuring that most health insurance plans in California cover a year’s supply of birth control dispensed at once—was chaptered.  California was a pioneer in enacting these measures and, since then, other states have built on the state’s success, so it is important that California once again lead on contraceptive equity issues.

In spite of the progress already made in California, health disparities in reproductive health outcomes persist among Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), including disproportionate unintended pregnancy, infant and maternal mortality, and STD rates. The COVID-19 public health emergency has also further highlighted the structural inequities that disproportionately affect youth, low-income people and communities of color in accessing birth control services. A report by the Guttmacher Institute revealed that 38 percent of Black women and 45 percent of Latinas—compared to 29 percent of white women—now face difficulties accessing birth control as a result of the pandemic. Lower-income women were also more likely than higher-income women to report having experienced delays or having been unable to get contraceptive care because of the pandemic (36 percent vs. 31 percent).

Along with the strong coalition of bill sponsors, SB 523 has also earned the support of Access Reproductive Justice, ACLU California, American Association of University Women / California, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists District IX, APLA Health, Bienestar Human Services, Business & Professional Women of Nevada County, California Academy of Family Physicians, California Black Health Network, California Faculty Association, California Health+ Advocates, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, California Nurse-Midwives Association, California Women’s Law Center, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Citizens for Choice, Courage California, End Hep C SF, End the Epidemics, Los Angeles LGBT Center, MPact Fijate Bien Program. National Association of Social Workers, California Chapter, National Center for Youth Law, National Council of Jewish Women Los Angeles, Plan C, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice California, SF AIDS Foundation, The Center for Health and Prevention, The Los Angeles Trust for Children’s Health, Training in Early Abortion for Comprehensive Healthcare, Women’s Foundation California and Women’s Health Specialists.