As states across the country roll back abortion rights and access to reproductive health care, New York City has moved to expand access to birth control by making long-acting reversible contraception available at city-run clinics and sites.
The City Council approved a bill last week that requires the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to make emergency contraception and long-acting reversible contraceptives like intrauterine devices available at its health centers, clinics and other health facilities.
This includes emergency contraception, commonly referred to as the morning-after pill, which can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex, intrauterine devices and subdermal contraceptive implants. These birth control methods will be available to any New Yorker that needs it, regardless of insurance or ability to pay for it.
New York doesn't require parental consent for minors to get birth control, and there are no age requirements in this bill.
“This is the sort of pioneering legislation that makes New York City the leader in access to reproductive health care that we know we can be, and that we know we are,” said Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, who sponsored the bill. “And given the tension and the political climate around reproductive justice and access to critical care services, it's our obligation and our responsibility to lead the way.”
It also mandates annual cultural-sensitivity training for the department’s health center employees, including the history of sterilization abuse among women of color, comprehensive and scientifically accurate information about the full range of contraceptive options and implicit and explicit biases that can result in the harm of a patient.
“We knew it would be irresponsible to increase access to LARCs without providing training and education because real access must include fully informed decision making and given our nation's fraught history of forced sterilization, especially for women of color,” Rivera said.
Currently, there can be delays in same-day access for a person seeking an IUD because of the lack of inventory on-site or because there isn’t an available provider who can administer services, according to advocates.
“LARCs can be particularly hard to get — there's a lot of misinformation about them because they have a pretty sordid past from the 1970s when they were very unsafe,” said Jenna Bimbi, executive director of the New York Birth Control Access Project.
Bimbi said there can also be issues surrounding health insurance, which can also cause further delays.
“A patient could wait days or weeks to get a second appointment if they aren’t offered same-day access or a timely referral to another provider to have an IUD placed,” she said. “Those delays can be the difference between getting the birth control you want and going without it. Not everyone has the flexibility in their schedule to delay a second visit.”
There are eight sexual health clinics in the city operated by DOHMH, four of which are currently operating as COVID clinics. Three of the four sexual health clinics currently offer LARC insertion and removal services.
Once the bill takes effect at the end of 2022, all eight of the sexual health clinics will be required to provide LARC services, and all other DOHMH clinics will be required to provide timely referrals for contraceptive services not offered on-site.