Comerford bills address health equity, women’s health

Comerford bills address health equity, women’s health

Published: 12/27/2019 11:39:12 PM

Modified: 12/27/2019 11:39:00 PM

As 2019 comes to an end, Sen. Jo Comerford, Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health, continues to focus on health equity and women’s health.

Nineteen of her committee’s bills were recently approved, including legislation she introduced.

“These bills address a number of important health issues, reflecting concerns I have heard from western Massachusetts constituents,” said Comerford, D-Northampton. “They will make a real difference. I’m particularly pleased that two bills I authored, concerning health equity and women’s health, will move forward as a result of the committee’s vote.” 

Among the bills receiving approval is S.1220, which directs the state’s secretary of Health and Human Services to review major state policy initiatives in all areas of government and prepare a health equity impact statement evaluating the likely positive or negative impact of each initiative on promoting health equity and eliminating or reducing racial and ethnic health disparities. 

“State action in areas such as education, transportation or housing can make a big difference for our health,” Comerford said. “By factoring health impacts into the process when building a major roadway or siting new housing, policy makers can understand if we are using state resources to improve health for everyone. Health justice is one of my top priorities, and this bill will require the state to think explicitly about these issues when making decisions.” 

Also approved was a bill introduced by Comerford to prohibit health care providers from performing pelvic exams on anesthetized or unconscious patients without obtaining written consent from the patient beforehand. The committee’s bill is based on House bill 1991, as well as Comerford’s bill in the Senate.

Medical training has been known to include invasive procedures, and the bills would preserve a woman’s trust, privacy and dignity by requiring explicit consent before a pelvic exam is conducted. 

“As patients, we give our trust to the medical community,” Comerford said. “Conducting non-consensual pelvic exams breaks the trust. While quality medical education is important for ensuring we train competent and compassionate care providers, that education should never come at the expense of the patient.” 

The senator, who will be starting her second year as a state legislator, teamed up with House colleagues Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, and Denise Provost, D-Somerville, to make it clear that those health practices are no longer acceptable.

The Joint Committee on Public Health also approved legislation to require provision of disposable menstrual products in schools, homeless shelters and prisons.

Comerford said menstrual products are a health necessity, not a luxury, for all menstruating individuals. She said the committee heard testimony from students who experienced shame, embarrassment, stigma and sex-based discrimination while attending public school as a result of the lack of access to feminine hygiene products.

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