CityViews: This is a State Legislature—Not a Middle School Locker Room

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Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood activists, interns and staff in Albany.

As a college student, I am comfortable talking about something so basic and common as a period. But back in middle school during swim class, it took me a while to get used to talking about menstruation with people, specifically when I was menstruating. Especially during swim class.

“I’m sick today, and my mother thinks I shouldn’t swim in case I get worse,” I lied to my classmates–girls and boys alike–as I handed my P.E. coach the dreaded envelope with a note excusing me from swimming for the next few days. The real reason was that I was on my period.

I bring this up because that awkward middle school memory was the first thing I was reminded of this summer as I sat in a room in New York State’s capitol lobbying for senators to pass the Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act (CCCA) and the Reproductive Health Act (RHA) before the 2017 session came to a close.
 
In the meeting, one senator’s aide verbally struggled to utter the word “menstruation.” Once he did, he gleefully added: “there I said it.” The aide wasn’t a middle schooler – he looked to be a middle-aged man, and he later mentioned that he was a father to two sons.
 
While everyone is celebrating the failure of Congress’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it’s important that we not forget that state decisions matter. This session, neither the CCCA or RHA passed. After that meeting with the senator and his aide, this did not surprise me greatly.
 
However, I am still struggling to put into words how painful it was to personally witness the discomfort of this aide, who was not particularly far to the right, and know that the people determining our health care rights are those who struggle to say “menstruation” and those in like and worse company.
 
The fact that the Senate prevented both of these bills from even getting a vote is a travesty. The CCCA would have ensured that New Yorkers had access to affordable contraception regardless of what Congress does to the ACA. Insurers would have had to provide coverage for multiple contraceptive methods, access to 12 months of contraception at a time, and coverage for over the counter emergency contraception, among other things.
 
The RHA would have brought New York’s outdated state law up to the standards set by Roe v. Wade, essentially decriminalizing abortion. It would have explicitly allowed for constitutionally-protected care late in the pregnancy when a woman’s health is at risk or the fetus in not viable and ensured that qualified health care providers other than doctors could provide abortion services that they had been trained to do.
 
A few months ago, I became a government relations intern at Planned Parenthood of NYC. I know that lobbying is tricky, and often the bills we lobby for do not get passed. This is not to say that it does not make a difference. If there is anything I have learned in the past few weeks, it is that it all makes a difference–the lobbying, the 50,000 petition signatures, the phone banks and calls to your legislators, and the rallies.
 
We still saw increased legislative support of the CCCA and the RHA in the Senate and among constituents. Though the current leaders of the Senate have shown us that our health care and access to contraception and abortion are not their priorities, the fight is not over. 

There are a lot of horrors that a young woman who is “not a girl, not yet a woman” encounters in a middle school pool and locker room—but those scenarios shouldn’t be replayed in a State legislature. Men who are at the same level of comfort with the functions of women’s bodies as middle schoolers should not be creating laws that restrict our bodies and ability to lead healthy lives. The New York State legislative session ended, but the fight for health care has certainly not.

Camille De Beus is a government relations intern at Planned Parenthood of NYC, Inc..

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