When it comes to reproductive rights, lawmakers should focus on expanding access to health care, not trying to take it away.

Share story

WHEN the gavel struck last month, concluding the U.S. House vote to slash federal funding for Planned Parenthood, it nearly fell on the anniversary of another infamous vote — one that has been haunting women and their families for decades.

Thirty-nine years ago, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, stripping coverage of abortion services out of Medicaid, our nation’s health-insurance program for low-income people. In the years that followed, the tentacles of this policy crept into other federally funded health plans, standing in the way of abortion coverage for federal employees, as well as women serving in the military and Peace Corps.

It’s time to restore federal funding for abortion care.

The impact of denying abortion coverage is devastating, especially for women struggling to make ends meet. In the Northwest, where the average cost of a first-trimester abortion is $650 and the monthly income of a full-time, low-wage worker is about $1,400, the coverage bans force women to choose between rent and medical care.

Most Read Opinion Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Because six out of 10 women who terminate pregnancies are mothers, these bans force parents to cut back on necessities like groceries and diapers for their children. They also force one in four poor women seeking abortion to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. And a woman who wants to end a pregnancy but is denied is more likely to fall into poverty than one who got an abortion.

However we feel about abortion, politicians shouldn’t be allowed to deny a woman’s health coverage just because she’s poor. When a health plan covers the costs of all pregnancy care, including abortion, it means a woman can make decisions based on what is best for her circumstances.

It’s time to ensure that every woman has access to affordable abortion care if she needs it.

We’re making progress regionally. Last year, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved a resolution calling on Congress and President Obama to repeal all federal bans on public coverage of abortion, noting that more than 4,000 Seattle women of reproductive age are insured through the federal government and are therefore impacted by the current coverage bans. And the Reproductive Health Act, introduced but not passed this year in the state Legislature, would require insurance companies to equitably serve all women by covering abortion care if the companies cover maternity care. In addition, Washington and Oregon cover abortion with their own state Medicaid funds. But Idaho, along with 31 other states and the District of Columbia, currently withholds state Medicaid coverage of abortion.

When a woman in our region needs an abortion but can’t afford it, she calls the Northwest’s abortion fund, The CAIR Project. CAIR runs a hotline and provides referrals, fundraising counseling and financial help in the form of grants to the caller’s clinic for her abortion care.

I serve on The CAIR Project board and volunteer on the hotline. There are no typical callers, only typical barriers: no insurance, insurance that won’t pay for abortion or insurance with a deductible so high — “Bronze” plans in Washington have deductibles ranging from around $3,750 to $6,500 — the entire procedure must be paid for out of pocket. I’ve spoken to a woman in the Navy whose insurance didn’t cover abortion, so she and her husband were struggling to scrape together the $700; a woman with only $75 in her checking account; a woman who, to afford her $450 abortion, had to return the Christmas gift she’d purchased for her toddler.

But there’s a growing national movement, All* Above All, that gives me the hope that someday our hotline will no longer ring. The centerpiece is the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act, a bold and visionary bill introduced in Congress this year to ensure abortion coverage for every woman — no matter her income, source of insurance or ZIP code.

This is what our lawmakers should be focusing on: expanding access to health care, not trying to take it away.

When it comes to the most important decisions in life — like whether to become a parent — a woman’s decision should be based on what is best for her and her family’s circumstances, not on what she earns, how she is insured or where she lives.