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In Defense of “Taxpayer-Funded Abortion”

It’s time to fight like hell for Roe v. Wade, for accessible contraception options, and for comprehensive maternal healthcare, but it’s also time to fight for the public assistance for abortion that low-income people deserve

Here’s the thing: abortion is healthcare. (Photo: AP/Rich Pedroncelli)

Here’s the thing: abortion is healthcare. (Photo: AP/Rich Pedroncelli)

In the midst of President Trump’s now temporarily-halted government shutdown, Senate Republicans weren’t working very hard to strike a deal and put 800,00 Americans—who by the way, were mostly women—back to work. Instead, they were focused on passing anti-choice legislation to “prohibit federally funded abortion” through the deceptively-titled “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” which sought to permanently codify anti-choice restrictions on federal dollars. But thankfully, they failed at that, too.

The reasoning for Republicans' obsession with this illogical policy? Anti-choice politicians claim that they simply believe that federal taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be used to fund abortion care. The actual reality beneath that gaslighting is that federal funds already aren’t allowed to be used to subsidize abortion. These funds have been untouchable for those wanting to terminate a pregnancy for decades. Our tax dollars don’t fund abortion. But they should. And with a pro-choice majority now in control of the House of Representatives, it’s time to repeal the anti-choice policies that block it.

The Hyde Amendment, an appropriations rider that prohibits federal funds—including Medicaid—from providing financial assistance for abortion care, was first passed by Congress in 1976 and has been approved again every year since. The policy has exceptions only in cases in which the life of the pregnant person is endangered or the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. Similar policies extend this rule to cut off federal financial assistance for abortion to Native American people, federal employees, U.S. military personnel, Peace Corps participants, and federal prisoners and detainees who receive their healthcare insurance from the federal government. Abortion is the only procedure that is legislatively singled out by Congress in this way.

But here’s the thing: abortion is healthcare. That’s not really up for any sort of meaningful debate. Pregnancy is a life-threatening medical condition that generally requires medical intervention—prenatal care, abortion, childbirth, or a combination of the three—regardless of whether or not the pregnant person chooses to carry the pregnancy to term.

1 in 4 women will have an abortion by age 45, and, regardless of what anti-choice zealots would have us believe, medication abortion has been shown to be safer than both Viagra and Tylenol.

Compared to other healthcare procedures, abortion is both extremely safe and very common. 1 in 4 women will have an abortion by age 45, and, regardless of what anti-choice zealots would have us believe, medication abortion has been shown to be safer than both Viagra and Tylenol. Not to mention, abortion at any stage of pregnancy is 14 times safer than carrying a pregnancy to term, and numerous studies have debunked the myth that having an abortion often results in trauma or mental illness. Despite the fearmongering of the anti-choice protesters outside of pretty much every clinic that provides abortions, their opposition to the procedure clearly has nothing to do with the safety of pregnant people. Abortion is healthcare and excluding it from federal healthcare assistance is both discriminatory and financially irrational.

By cutting off financial support for abortion for low-income people, the U.S. government creates a different set of rights for the rich and the poor. Our constitutional right to legal abortion is no right at all if we can’t access it. By excluding abortion care from Medicaid, which in itself is intended to provide healthcare for those who can’t otherwise afford it, anti-choice lawmakers are denying basic rights to Americans because of their income status and often, because of their race as well. Besides forcing people through the painful and often traumatic experience of carrying an unwanted pregnancy, anti-choice extremists are also increasing the costs of Medicaid. It’s pretty obvious that subsidizing the much smaller, one-time cost of an abortion is a lot cheaper than prenatal care, labor, childbirth, and postpartum care for a person who didn’t want to be pregnant in the first place.

Medicaid provides medical coverage to 1 in every 5 women of reproductive age, and 75% of people who have an abortion are low-income or poor. It’s safe to say that it’s no small number of people who are affected by the government putting ideology before the health and well-being of the people it’s supposed to represent.

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On top of forcing low-income people to try to scrape together enough money to be able to afford a basic healthcare procedure, anti-choice legislators are also working overtime to raise the overall cost of an abortion. As a medical procedure that requires trained healthcare professionals, the procedure itself has a hefty price tag without insurance coverage. In 2014, the average cost of a medication abortion procedure was $535, and that number can easily climb into the thousands when people are forced to delay their abortion or don’t find out that they need an abortion until later in their pregnancy. By targeting abortion providers and their patients with TRAP laws and mandatory wait periods, anti-choice politicians have successfully reduced the number of abortion clinics. Fewer clinics and multiple appointments mean that pregnant people who need an abortion must drive further and spend more money on transportation and lodging and take more time off work. The increase in these unnecessary restrictions, paired with the immediate threat of the Supreme Court overturning or gutting Roe v. Wade and criminalizing abortion in numerous states, means that we’re likely to see the out-of-pocket cost of abortion skyrocket.

This rising cost only serves to control and punish the bodies of those who can get pregnant, and make the poor poorer. The United Nations rightly classifies being denied an abortion as torture, and studies show that being unable to access a wanted abortion and forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy quadruples the chance that a person in the U.S. will live below the poverty line four years later. Tens of thousands of people die every year from unsafe abortions that are performed when pregnant people who want an abortion can’t afford or access a safe procedure. History has shown us that blocking access to abortion doesn’t make abortion go away.

Low-income people deserve the right to make their own healthcare decisions without ideologically-driven government interference. It’s that simple. Individuals, families, and communities are all better off when people who can get pregnant have the power to choose when, if, and how to start or grow their families.

All of this is to say, it really doesn’t matter if you don’t like abortion if you aren’t the person getting one. We don’t get to decide what the best medical procedure is for other people, and the United States government shouldn’t either. While refusing to offer any help to pregnant people who need an abortion, the federal government does offer assistance for those who choose to—or are forced to by their lack of access to abortion—carry their pregnancy to term. Tax dollars directly fund prenatal care and childbirth for those who can’t afford it, which is great if that’s what a pregnant person wants. While barred from funding an actual medical procedure, our taxes do subsidize scientifically disproven abstinence-only “sexual education” and many of the thousands of fake “clinics” across the U.S. who lure pregnant people in and lie to them about abortion. It’s a web of reproductive coercion for people who can’t bear the currently enormous costs of maintaining reproductive autonomy.

Denying federal assistance to those can’t financially afford to exercise their constitutional right to abortion is shameful and paternalistic. Taxes are intended to fund expenditures for the people. They’re supposed to better the state and provide for its people—whether it’s healthcare or education or infrastructure or other basic public services. This is one of the many instances where the United States fails people who can get pregnant. Anti-choice activists and politicians are leveraging the power of the government against people who only want the right to self-determination. Those who claim to oppose abortionwant the right to make personal healthcare decisions for others, and they’re using our taxes to do it.

It’s time to fight like hell for Roe v. Wade, for accessible contraception options, and for comprehensive maternal healthcare, but it’s also time to fight for the public assistance for abortion that low-income people deserve. It’s time for everyone to have the reproductive freedom to make the best choice for themselves and their specific situation, no matter who they are or how much money is in their pocket.cleardot.gif

Hayley Farless

Hayley Farless is a reproductive justice advocate and writer based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @hayleyfarless.

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