State Sen. Harriette Chandler Proposes “Plan B” for Women’s Rights, DACA Tuition Break

The Massachusetts Statehouse. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This article was also published in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette

BOSTON – Ellen Duffer, 25, experiences debilitating migraines that accompany her menstrual cycle. Every month, she finds herself lying on the bathroom floor for hours, waiting for the pain to subside.

“It feels like someone has stabbed you with a knife, and like someone at the same time is kicking you in the head over and over and over again,” she said.

Duffer began taking birth control to manage her migraines. Under the Affordable Care Act, she was able to receive her prescription without a copay, which she said saved her $400 a month. Now, she worries that changes in Washington will force her to choose between getting birth control or putting the money toward her student loans.

With federal attempts to repeal the ACA underway, state Sen. Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester, stood with advocacy groups and health insurers this week in support of a bill to protect free birth control coverage statewide.

“This bill ensures that no changes at the federal level impact the ability of women in Massachusetts to access contraception,” Mrs. Chandler said during her Statehouse testimony.

In addition to her bill to continue free birth control coverage, the senator has sponsored a bill to repeal laws that became outdated with the legalization of abortion, including a provision that limits physicians from giving drugs to prevent conception to unmarried people.

Mrs. Chandler has also proposed legislation to provide in-state tuition to anyone who has completed three years of high school, including to immigrants who are in this country illegally. The bill is intended to safeguard students who were once protected by federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

All of Chandler’s bills would safeguard Obama-era actions, even if these programs were revoked on Capitol Hill.

“We’re all afraid,” Mrs. Chandler said. “All of them are defense postures we’re being put into because the (presidential) administration is showing that we better prepare for the worst.”

Sen. Chandler first filed the bills in January, before President Trump was sworn into office. She said the measures were precautionary – at the time she and her colleagues did not know which programs the president would repeal.

“We needed a Plan B just in case, and all three were our Plan B,” she said.

Massachusetts’ House of Representatives has also responded to changes at the national level, assembling a federal response working group often referred to as the “Trump Working Group.” Democratic Rep. Kate Hogan, a member of the group from Stow, said that the far-reaching changes on the federal level have been proposed often with little formal evaluation of the impact.

“I think it is only prudent that we at the state level are standing ready to assess and respond, where necessary, to safeguard the interests of the commonwealth and its people,” Ms. Hogan said in a written statement.

The birth control access bill is the first of Mrs. Chandler’s proposals to have a public hearing. The coalition of supporters includes members of the insurance industry that came out in opposition to earlier versions of the bill.

Laura Pellegrini of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, an organization that represents 17 different health care plans, said that discussions between insurers and advocates revealed common goals, allowing for compromise.

“We live every day with the threats of the Affordable Care Act being repealed,” Ms. Pellegrini said. “So it is important that Massachusetts pass this bills so that if the ACA is repealed there are states involved.”

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