It’s been more than 40 years since the U.S. Supreme Court knocked down state laws banning abortion, establishing that all women have a constitutional right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy if that’s their choice.
Since then, lawmakers at the state and federal levels have battled to determine the circumstances under which a woman can exercise her right, and what limits would be permissible under the broad outlines described in Roe v. Wade. One of the most effective ways the law gets between a woman and her doctor has been the federal ban on taxpayer funding for abortion, a rider attached to a variety of spending bills known as The Hyde Amendment.
Named for it original sponsor, Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, the amendment is usually thought of a conscientious objection by anti-abortion-rights taxpayers, who say they shouldn’t have to pay any fraction of the cost of an abortion, no matter how small. That’s an opt-out not extended to opponents of any other item in the federal budget, but the Hyde Amendment does more than help abortion opponents sleep at night.
It may not on its face be a limit on abortion, but the Hyde Amendment succeeds in denying many women a choice.
Not people of means or those with some private health insurance plans. But it can shut the clinic door on women who rely on Medicaid to pay for their health care. The universal right established by the Supreme Court and upheld in a series of cases ends up not being universally available.
Maine lawmakers are considering a bill, LD 820, that would fix this injustice, and treat all women the same, no matter how much money they have. The bill would make abortion one of the services covered by Medicaid (known here as MaineCare) and require health insurance plans that offer prenatal care to also cover abortion, leaving an exception for some religious institutions.
The bill passed on a close vote by the Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee this week, but it really shouldn’t be controversial. Regardless of which side of the abortion divide on which you stand, no one says there should be a double standard in the law based on wealth. Abortion should be legal or illegal for everyone, not just legal for people with money or the right kind of insurance and illegal for the ones who don’t.
Economic restrictions take coverage away from the people who need it the most. According to testimony on L.D. 820 presented by Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, low-income women are five times more likely to have an unwanted pregnancy and six times more likely to have an unplanned child. One in four Medicaid-qualified women who try to get an abortion end up carrying the pregnancy to term because of the cost.
Family planning services and sex education would likely prevent more abortions than the Hyde Amendment ever could, and they would help families fighting their way out of poverty.
Maine should stop practicing this unfair form of health care rationing, and lift the abortion coverage ban.