“I am woman, hear me roar!” Helen Reddy said it best, “I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman.” These lyrics hit me when I met with a group of women at Bungalow Bar this past summer. I want to celebrate these women here in March, Women’s History Month, and all the women who have and continue to do remarkable things for our community.

Their strength inspired me to take on an important women’s health issue by introducing legislation to support women by changing the current laws that dictate how a woman’s body will look after having a mastectomy. Let us give women the full option of deciding what their post-mastectomy body will look like. By changing our insurance law, we will be giving women the opportunity to choose to have reconstruction of their breasts or to have a flat chest wall.

About one in eight U.S. women (roughly 13 percent) will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in the course of their lifetimes. We all know someone who has gone through breast cancer; and I will venture to say many of us know a woman who had a mastectomy. While many women pursue reconstructive surgeries, women also choose to “stay flat” and pursue aesthetic flat closure, rather than a breast reconstruction. Meaning a woman can have a flat chest wall, or no breasts. However, this option is not always covered by insurance.

All women with breast cancer deserve to have their insurance cover their choice of surgery: either breast reconstruction, which is already covered by insurance, or aesthetic flat closure, a flat chest wall with no breasts, which is not always covered. Women who forgo breast reconstruction are most often done in one surgery, but about one in four will require revision to produce an acceptable aesthetic result (an aesthetic flat closure). Too often, these women are told that their revision surgery is “cosmetic” and therefore will not be covered by insurance.

I can promise you this is not cosmetic surgery. It is insulting to even say that this would qualify as such. In fact, to minimalize or trivialize how these women are left — with lopsided, dangling flaps of skin and scars, so disfigured after surgery — is just appalling. These are our mothers, sisters, daughters and friends, and they are entitled to flat chest wall or reconstructive surgeries. It’s their choice.

We are now correcting that problem! As we celebrate Women’s History Month, let us make history for women by being the first state that permits aesthetic flat closure and ensures women in New York have the right to decide how they want their chest to look. No longer will we allow any woman to be damaged and left in an unacceptable state. The way to support women is to ensure that insurance will cover a woman’s choice to have breasts or have a flat chest wall after a mastectomy. My bill, A8537, will give women, strong and beautiful women, that opportunity.

As I go forward, I will continue to keep you all apprised of the developments and work being done. Every day we get more and more co-sponsors among remarkable Assembly members, and we have Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky leading the charge in our other house. As always, do not hesitate to contact my office by phone at (718) 945-9550 or by email at amatos@nyassembly.gov. It is a pleasure to serve you and I look forward to representing you for many more years to come.

Stacey Pheffer Amato is New York State Assemblywoman for the 23rd District, in southern Queens and the Rockaways.

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