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Another Voice: Women who are poor shouldn't be penalized when seeking abortions

By Gretchen Ely

As autumn approaches, so does the 42nd anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, a federal budget rider that prohibits federal insurance coverage of abortion. Due to this amendment, lower income people who use Medicaid, and those using other federal health programs, must pay for abortions out of pocket. On the surface, political rhetoric may lead us to believe this is reasonable. However, if we dig deeper, we see that the Hyde Amendment is part of a system of regressive health policies that unfairly limit health care options for vulnerable people.

The Hyde Amendment was introduced by Rep. Henry Hyde, who expressed clear intention to limit abortion access for everyone. Since he couldn’t do that, he settled for limiting abortion access for poor women. The Hyde Amendment does little to impact abortion access for affluent people, but it seriously burdens those who are vulnerable, including women of color, those who are financially disadvantaged, and those who are young.

Research suggests that abortion rates tend to remain consistent, regardless of restrictions, but restrictions can increase levels of stress and desperation. For example, when abortion is unaffordable because it is not covered by health insurance, people may use money designated for rent or food to cover abortion-related costs, which can have negative financial impacts on them and their families well into the future.

Unaffordable abortions can also push women to seek cheaper, unsafe options for abortion. These can include attempts at self-termination, or use of medications without adequate medical supervision. When these burdens absolutely cannot be overcome, those who want abortions may be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term against their will. Forced pregnancy likely brings with it substantial public health concerns, which could include negative health outcomes for mothers and children.

Although New York is one of 16 states that provide abortion coverage through the state Medicaid program, thousands of residents are excluded from abortion coverage because of the Hyde Amendment, including veterans, federal employees, Peace Corps volunteers, federal prisoners, and beneficiaries of Indian Health Service. No one should be denied insurance coverage for abortion just because of their source of insurance, or further, the state in which they live.

This doesn’t have to continue. By supporting the EACH Woman Act, legislation that would lift the bans on abortion coverage, we can ensure abortion coverage for everyone, regardless of how much money people earn or how they are insured.

Regardless of anyone’s personal feelings around abortion, women who are struggling to make ends meet need to be able to make important health decisions based on personal circumstances.

Gretchen Ely is an associate professor in the School of Social Work at the University at Buffalo.

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