Fighting back against discriminatory policies that block low-income and minority women from accessing a full range of reproductive health care coverage, three U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a bill that "would finally guarantee every woman can get the reproductive health care she needs, no matter how much money she makes or where she lives."
"None of us, especially elected officials, should be interfering with a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions just because she is poor."
—Rep. Barbara Lee, of California
The Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act—co-sponsored by Congresswomen Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), and more than 60 other representatives (all Democrats)—has the enthusiastic backing of women's rights and social justice groups including the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood, Feminist Majority, and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH).
It would restore coverage for abortion services to women enrolled in insurance plans and programs offered or managed by the federal government, including Medicaid, Medicare, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, Indian Health Services, and TRICARE, the federal health care program for military families.
In doing so, its proponents point out, the EACH Woman Act would essentially put an end to the Hyde Amendment, a policy prohibiting federal Medicaid coverage for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.
First passed in 1976, the Hyde Amendment "creates an often insurmountable barrier to abortion services for women across the country already struggling to get affordable healthcare, and disproportionately affects those who are low-income, people of color, young, immigrants, or who live in rural communities," according to the NLIRH.
"Each and every day, the rights of women are under attack in America—today, we push back because every person has a right to healthcare," Rep. Lee said in a statement. "The EACH Woman Act is a bold and groundbreaking step forward. This legislation would ensure that every woman can access ALL of her healthcare options, regardless of how much money she earns or where she lives."
Lee added: "Regardless of how someone personally feels about abortion, none of us, especially elected officials, should be interfering with a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions just because she is poor."
"Year after year, the Hyde Amendment bans Medicaid coverage of abortion and denies those who are struggling financially the same full-spectrum reproductive health care available to other women. Through Hyde and other funding restrictions, too many women have been forced to decide between an abortion they cannot afford or continuing a pregnancy they do not want."
—Miriam Yeung, National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum
In an op-ed published Wednesday in The Hill, National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum executive director Miriam Yeung echoed that sentiment.
"Should a woman’s ability to decide whether to become a parent depend on how much money she has or where she lives?" Yeung asked.
"That a woman could be forced to carry a pregnancy to term simply by virtue of the fact that she cannot afford to do anything else is a tragedy that has been happening for nearly as long as abortion has been legal," Yeung continued.
"Year after year, the Hyde Amendment bans Medicaid coverage of abortion and denies those who are struggling financially the same full-spectrum reproductive health care available to other women," she wrote. "Through Hyde and other funding restrictions, too many women have been forced to decide between an abortion they cannot afford or continuing a pregnancy they do not want."
To illustrate the real world implications, the National Abortion Federation, in its statement of support, shared the story of Reeda, who lives in Virginia and is a working mother of two:
Unfortunately, even though Reeda decided an abortion was the right choice for herself and her family, Reeda’s Medicaid would not cover her abortion care. Reeda began trying to gather enough resources to pay for her procedure, but even with borrowing from her sister, selling what she could, and having someone else pay for her transportation, she did not have enough money. The NAF Hotline was able to help cover the cost of the procedure, but because the nearest abortion provider was more than 150 miles away, Reeda still had to find a way to pay for childcare during her procedure and a hotel. At the last minute, Reeda was able to borrow money from a family member in order to travel and obtain the care she needed and had been trying to obtain.
Furthermore, Yeung added: "The long list of women affected by these bans includes not only those who are enrolled in Medicaid, but also those who work for the government or defend our country, as well as women who receive their insurance through someone else who does. More recently, this list has extended to include women who live in the ten states where anti-choice policymakers have barred all insurance plans from covering abortion."
To that end, the legislation would also prevent federal, state, and local governments from restricting insurance coverage of abortion in private health insurance plans, including plans purchased on health insurance exchanges created through the Affordable Care Act.
The Guttmacher Institute revealed earlier this year that not only do many states retain the option to ban abortion coverage in marketplace plans outright, half of all 50 states have already done so. What's more, "individuals were largely unable to obtain clear, consistent information on whether a given plan covered or excluded abortion," according to a 2014 Guttmacher analysis.
"Antiabortion policymakers and advocates are exploiting this lack of publicly available information on abortion coverage to call for new legislation that purportedly advances transparency, but is actually aimed at discouraging—if not eliminating—abortion coverage altogether," the organization explained.
The EACH Woman Act aims to counter this type of attack on women's health.
"Politically motivated attacks on women’s access to abortion must end," declared Feminist Majority policy director Gaylynn Burroughs on Wednesday. "The EACH Woman Act takes a huge step forward by preventing politicians from playing games with women’s lives by deciding which services their health insurance can and cannot cover. No matter where you live, how much money you make, or how you get your insurance, women should be able to make basic health decisions about their lives, without government interference."
"A majority of Americans agree that a woman enrolled in Medicaid should have all her pregnancy-related healthcare covered by her insurance, including abortion services," said Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of NLIRH. "And among young people and people of color, that opinion is a tidal wave. We are ready to change the game in Washington. We are organized, making phone calls, knocking on doors, and paying visits to our members of Congress. We are ready to do what it takes to make Hyde history."
Advocates are tweeting about the proposed legislation under the hashtag #4EACHofUs: