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Prevention First Act Introduced

On January 4, 2007, the first day of the 110th Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced the Prevention First Act (S. 21), a package of legislation that seeks to prevent unintended pregnancy and increase access to comprehensive contraceptive services and information.  The early introduction of the legislation underscores that prevention is a policy priority for the Democratic leadership. The legislation is supported by a broad array of Senators including the anti-choice Senator Reid as well as pro-choice Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and presidential hopefuls, Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barak Obama (D-IL).   The legislation was also introduced on February 5, 2007 in the House of Representatives by Representatives Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) with over 100 cosponsors (H.R. 819).  The Prevention First Act aims to improve women’s health by empowering women through increased access to family planning services and education, thereby reducing the rate of unintended pregnancy, preventing the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and reducing the need for abortion.

The Prevention First Act combines eight separate bills, the first of which focuses expanding access to preventative health care services.  It would increase funding for the Title X family planning program which provides high-quality preventive health care to low-income individuals who may otherwise lack access to health care. Another component of the bill would strengthen Medicaid coverage of family planning services, in an attempt to ensure that services remain accessible to low-income women.  It would also require states to extend coverage for family planning services and supplies to women who would be entitled to Medicaid-funded prenatal, labor, delivery, and postpartum care if they became pregnant.  A third measure would ensure contraception equity in health insurance plans by requiring private health plans to cover FDA-approved prescription contraceptives and related medical services to the same extent that they cover other prescription drugs and outpatient medical services.

After a one year hiatus, the Prevention First package once again contains the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act,which would provide funding for comprehensive, medically accurate sexuality education.  Currently, there is no federal funding stream to provide comprehensive sexuality education—medically accurate, age-appropriate education that includes information about both abstinence and contraception—in schools.  The legislation would also provide funding to public and private entities to establish or expand teenage pregnancy prevention programs. Additionally, it would require that all federally funded programs providing information on the use of contraceptives ensure that this information is medically accurate and includes information about both health benefits and failure rates.

The prevention package also seeks to improve awareness about and access to emergency contraception (EC), a high dose of regular birth control pills that if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sexual intercourse can lower the risk of pregnancy by up to 89 percent.  The legislation directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop and disseminate public education initiatives about EC and its benefits to the public and to health care providers.  Yet another component would require that hospitals receiving federal funds provide survivors of sexual assault with information and access to EC. 

“There are few more divisive issues in America today than abortion, but there is opportunity to find common ground if we are willing to join together and seize it,” Senator Reid said recently.  “The rate of unintended pregnancies is unacceptably high,” Reid continued, noting that, legislation such as the Prevention First Act “can reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and the resulting abortions in America today.”1

“We are thrilled that Senator Reid and Representative Slaughter have once again decided to include the REAL Act in the Prevention First package,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS.  “As the gold-standard for prevention legislation, the inclusion of REAL in the Prevention First Act speaks not only to the paramount importance of comprehensive sexuality education in reducing unintended pregnancies and STDs, but also ensures that SIECUS will support the legislation without hesitation, just as we hope Congress and the American public will do,” Smith continued. 

To view the full Prevention First Act (S. 21), please go to: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?c110:1:./temp/~c110qzLzJK::

References

  1. Shailagh Murray, “Democrats Seek to Avert Abortion Clashes,” Washington Post, 21 January 2007, accessed 22 January 2007, <www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/
    article/2007/01/20/AR2007012001425.html
    >. 

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