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How Women’s Health Fared During This Year’s Legislative Session

The Louisiana State Capitol. March 2021.
Phoebe Jones
The Louisiana State Capitol. March 2021.

Women’s health got a boost from lawmakers this year, much of it focused on pregnancy and birth and domestic abuse. But a handful of measures with significant implications for women's safety and access to care failed.

Here’s a rundown of what did — and didn’t — make it out of the Capitol.

Pregnancy, Birth and Feminine Hygiene

A new law aimed at lowering Louisiana’s high rate of maternal and infant mortality requires all health insurance in Louisiana to cover midwives. The law also sets up a state board for doulas — birthing experts who help women through pregnancy, childbirth, and the early days of new parenthood.

“It’s about reducing the infant mortality rate, the high number of C-section deliveries that we have, the high number of low birth weight babies we have,” said Rep. Matthew Willard, who wrote Act 182, which Gov. John Bel Edwards signed this week.

Many health insurers in the state already provide coverage for midwives, Willard added, but until now it wasn’t required by law. The law also helps midwives get reimbursed at a higher rate.

The Louisiana Doula Registry Board, created by the law, lays the groundwork for including doulas in health insurance coverage in the future, Willard said.

Two tax measures awaiting the governor’s signature deal with tragedies around childbirth.

HB 146, authored by Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, creates a $2,000 tax credit for mothers of stillborn babies. HB 301 by Rep. Mandie Landry creates a refundable tax credit for the burial expenses of a woman who dies from pregnancy complications.

Lawmakers eliminated the so-called “pink tax”. HB 7 by Rep. Amiee Adatto Freeman ends state sales tax on feminine hygiene products and diapers — a move Democrats had proposed and failed to pass in previous sessions.

But another bill by Landry that would have dramatically increased postpartum care for the poorest women in the state failed.

HB 468 would have expanded medicaid coverage after birth from the current 60 days to 12 months. It was supported by OB-GYNs and experts on maternal health in the state, but failed to make it out of the Senate Committee on Finance.

Domestic Abuse

The legislature passed one bill focused on helping people who experience domestic abuse but left languishing a separate bill that proponents say would’ve helped victims of abuse.

HB 55 makes it easier to seek a restraining order in cases of domestic abuse. Instead of requiring an affidavit, which has to be signed before a notary public, a person can now sign a written affirmation. It was opposed by the Louisiana arm of the National Rifle Association.

But a measure to expand the definition of domestic abuse failed to pass after opposition from the gun lobby and a confrontation on the House floor.

HB 159 was sponsored by Rep. Malinda B. White, a survivor of domestic abuse. It was intended to help people seek protective orders before experiencing physical violence, and advocates said it would have made non-violent behaviors including coercion, control and intimidation and exacting revenge part of the definition of domestic abuse in cases where they prevent the victim from escaping the relationship.

Rosemary Westwood is the public reporter for WWNO/WRKF. She was previously a freelance writer specializing in gender and reproductive rights, a radio producer, columnist, magazine writer and podcast host.