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June 27, 2019

Bay State Banner: Pressley puts focus on women’s rights

When Ayanna Pressley was first elected to serve on the City Council in 2009, she focused her efforts on raising the status of women, children and Boston’s most vulnerable residents.

Now, serving as representative of the 7th Congressional District, she has expanded her work to include people around the country. Currently, Pressley is working on legislation regarding reproductive health care for women and increasing access to health care services for women at all income levels.

The Banner spoke with Pressley about her work in this area and how it will help people here in Massachusetts. Some responses have been edited for length.

The most recent legislation in the area of reproductive rights is the Affordability is Access Act, which you announced on June 13 along with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ami Bera and Katie Hill and Sen. Patty Murray. What is it and how does it fit into your other work in this area?

I view every single issue through a lens of equity and of health, and so that was what guided me in my eight-year tenure on the council, and it is that lens that still guides me now as a member of Congress.

The Affordability is Access Act specifically removes barriers to contraceptive care, because it’s very expensive, and it affirms a person’s right to make decisions about their body and if and when to start a family. Making birth control affordable and accessible is not only a health care justice issue, it is an economic justice issue. Despite the fact that the pill is one of the safest and most effective forms of birth control, nearly one in three individuals continue to face barriers when trying to access contraception. What our bill does is it ensures that public and private health insurance covers over-the-counter birth control, and this would allow birth control to be available without a prescription.

We know that health inequities in terms of access persist and are disproportionately impacting low-income individuals and communities of color, those who are without access to transportation, affordable childcare, health insurance coverage or a regular doctor. This allows us to ensure that those barriers are dismantled and that all of those folks currently adversely impacted will now have access to birth control.

Your proposal to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds from being used to fund abortion care, lost in the House. Why did you want to get rid of it, and is there hope that that can still be done in the future?

I’m an eternal optimist, so I never lose hope. I don’t want [Hyde] included in any future budgets, and I’m working to build a coalition to ensure that that’s realized. … Hyde denies federal funds to be used for abortion care, which is health care, and that disproportionately affects low-income people and women of color.

What is the Healthy Mommies Act, and why is it important?

Disparities in access to maternal care persist. They have nothing to do with socioeconomic status or education level, and everything to do with the need for us to increase access to community-centered, culturally competent care to address the embedded racism that is institutionalized in our health care system. The pain of black women is delegitimized, and women have almost lost and have lost their lives because of it. We’ve seen this in more high-profile cases like that of [tennis player] Serena Williams, but this is happening to everyday women. The fact that my grandmother died in the 1950s in childbirth and that black women in 2019 are still four times more likely to die in childbirth or in complications that can occur for up to a year is why myself and Sen. Cory Booker introduced the Healthy Mommies Act, which would extend Medicaid coverage up until a full year and also provide coverage of and increased access to doulas, midwives and community-centered, culturally competent care.

How will these bills help people in Massachusetts, and especially low-income residents?

I see all these issues as being interconnected. I know that it will benefit the Massachusetts 7th district, and although I am a member of Congress, I am here clear-eyed with a mandate from this district to address the inequities and disparities. The fact that in a three-mile radius from Cambridge to Roxbury, life expectancy drops by 30 years and median household income by $50,000, is why I came to Washington. In order for us to address these inequities and disparities we have to be granular. We have to be specific. I’m addressing these inequities and these disparities both in the macro and in the micro. These bills are not introduced as a stand-alone; this is work that is borne out of the conversation that I have in community, the correspondence I receive from my constituents, the people that call my office. This is an agenda that is directly shaped by the residents of the Massachusetts 7th district.