Rep. Cori Bush proposes new HHS office to support reproductive health care


Democratic Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri plans to introduce legislation that would establish a new reproductive health office in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and provide grant money to reproductive care services.

Bush’s measure, the “Protect Sexual and Reproductive Health Act,” comes a month after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that mandated the right to abortion.

The legislation aims to take a holistic approach to reproductive support that includes funding programs that provide doula care, food assistance, lodging and patient sex education.

“This bill speaks to that comprehensive look at sexual reproductive health care services,” Bush told The 19th ahead of introducing the bill. “So, in this space of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, we need to see immediate, tangible solutions to alleviate these new burdens.”

Members of the House have passed bills focused on contraception and abortion since the June 24 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned Roe, but none of the bills seem to have the necessary support from 10 Republican senators in order to succeed. Bush’s bill does not currently have any sponsors in the Senate.

Bush, a former nurse and community activist in Ferguson, Missouri, has testified about her personal experience getting an abortion. In creating this bill, she said she kept in mind communities that have faced marginalization in health care and beyond. This includes low-income people and people of color. 

For example, many Black people endure forms of racism and discrimination that can cause long-term health problems like higher rates of hypertension and heart disease, according to the work of researchers including Arline T. Geronimus, a professor at the University of Michigan. Higher risk for certain health conditions, in addition to bias in medical treatment, means that the mortality rates for Black people who are pregnant or have recently delivered a child are nearly three times the rates for non-Hispanic White people, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Dobbs decision put many health care providers under enhanced legal scrutiny, which may jeopardize people’s access to other reproductive services like birth control and fertility treatments.

Bush’s bill seeks to establish an Office of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Well-Being within HHS that would be tasked with developing a national strategy to integrate equity and reproductive justice into federal programs and processes. Currently HHS has an Office of Population Affairs that administers programs for federal Title X family planning, teen pregnancy prevention, and embryo adoption awareness and services. Bush said her bill seeks to modernize these efforts and ensure there is an office focused specifically on sexual and reproductive health.

The bill calls for the new office to offer recommendations for patient-centered care models in hospitals, federally qualified health centers and services that are eligible for funding under the Title X family planning program. The legislation would also establish a $500 million grant program to fund mobile sexual reproductive health care clinics, travel expenses, childcare, lodging, translation services and legal aid, among other things. 

Because of the Hyde Amendment, federal funds from this grant could not go toward funding abortion procedures. 

The reproductive-justice-minded approach of Bush’s bill reflects the long legacy of Black-led organizations that not only center rights to bodily autonomy and access to abortions, but also the freedom to raise children in safe and sustainable communities with the necessary health and financial support systems. 

“We look at all the intersections of a person’s life in terms of how they make decisions about starting a family or expanding their family,” Marcela Howell, president and CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, told The 19th. “It’s not just, ‘Do I have a good OBGYN?’ They also look at things like, ‘Do we have access to clean water?’ ‘Do we have access to quality food items?’”

In Our Own Voice is one of 15 advocacy organizations listed as endorsing Bush’s bill. Democratic Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Barbara Lee of California and Robin Kelly of Illinois are co-sponsors. 

Since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, Bush has introduced other bills, including one that would create reproductive health travel grants and another to protect access to medication abortion. On the Senate side, a separate bill introduced by Democratic Sens. Tina Smith of Minnesota, Patty Murray of Washington and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, aims to expand funding for the Title X family planning program.

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