Abortion Rights Under Fire

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Michelle R. NWHN Health Information Intern
Tue, June 15, 2010

Here at the National Women’s Health Network (NWHN), March 21, 2010 was both a victory and a defeat. We are glad health care reform passed, but were very disappointed in the setbacks to women’s reproductive rights. President Obama issued an Executive Order upholding the Hyde Amendment, and “extends those restrictions to the newly-created health insurance exchanges.” The Hyde Amendment excludes abortion from comprehensive federal health care services generally, but mandates abortion funding in cases of rape or incest, as well as when a pregnant woman's life is endangered by a physical disorder, illness, or injury. The major components of the health reform bill won’t go into affect until 2014, but the debates surrounding Health Care Reform brought abortion rights to the forefront of state legislative agendas.

As abortion is reintroduced as a hot-button issue, states are responding quickly to the idea that federal money might have paid for abortion through federal subsidies of private health insurance plans. Some states are taking advantage of abortion’s spotlight to pass legislation while the climate seems right, adding restrictions and tightening regulations of laws that are already on the books. Some are also passing laws that pertain directly to health care reform (see Tennessee).   Here are some examples of recent state abortion legislation.

Kansas:  Kansas’ governor, Mark Parkinson, vetoed a bill on April 15, 2010 that would have increased reporting requirements for physicians performing late term abortions. The legislation would have them report a specific medical diagnosis to justify abortions performed beyond 22 weeks, as well as specify how they calculated to fetus’ age at the time of abortion. Gov. Parkinson’s veto was overridden by the state’s house, but upheld by the state senate. It is interesting to note that anti-choice organizations spoke of this bill in terms of greater accountability of doctors who perform abortions. Pro-choice organizations view the veto as a safeguard for women’s reproductive rights in Kansas.  

Tennessee: A bill was passed on May 5, 2010 that excludes health insurance plans that offer abortion coverage from participating in the state’s health insurance exchange. What is particularly interesting and outrageous about this bill is that is makes no exception for cases of rape, incest, or threat to the mother’s life, all legitimate grounds for federal abortion funding under the Hyde Amendment. Tennessee has the right to spend state money as it sees fit, and can legally exclude abortion from plans that it pays for or subsidizes, but I think it is an unnecessary reach into private business, and potentially traumatic for poor women who need an abortion because of rape, incest, or life-threatening pregnancy.  

Florida: The state legislature recently passed two bills that would limit abortion access if signed by Governor Charlie Crist. The first piece of legislation requires women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound, and either see the fetus, or listen to the doctor describe the fetus. Women would have to pay for the ultrasound out of pocket. The second part of the legislation prohibits private insurers from providing abortion coverage if the plan is subsidized by the federal or state government. This legislation does include the exceptions of rape, incest, domestic violence, or a medically necessary abortion.

Kansas’ veto was upheld. Tennessee passed the bill, and the governor signed it into law. Florida’s bill reached governor’s desk on June 7, 2010, and he had 15 days to sign or veto the bill. Governor Crist negotiated all sorts of political interests in his decision to sign or veto the bill.

Governor Crist vetoed the legislation on Friday, June 11. He said that it is not appropriate for the state to put medical or fiscal barriers in the way of a woman “following through on her constitutionally protected decision to end a pregnancy.”  There was uproar in the state by advocacy groups, as well as individuals, demanding a veto.

It seems to me that in many places, there is a disconnect between what the people want, and that the legislators want for the people. The people who would be most affected by abortion limitations want to make sure that they have access to all reproductive health services, and the legislators who are limiting access probably have only an ideological connection to the issue. I could be wrong, but that is my perception. Civil outcries happen for a reason. One of them being that the government is not passing laws that reflect the public’s wishes.  Here at NWHN we are working to reduce economic barriers to abortion services by advancing both long-term strategies that build political support for public funding of abortion and, as strategically advantageous, incremental steps toward the elimination of specific funding restrictions that block access to abortion for women who rely on state and federal health programs.  We are also working to reduce the restrictive impact of the abortion provisions included in the new health care reform law.

I respect people who are anti-choice. I think it is a good think to have morals and principles to guide your actions. They have a right to disagree with my opinions, just as I have a right to disagree with theirs. They do not have the right to infringe on anybody’s personal decisions, nor do they have the right to intrude on anyone’s medical care (as would happen in the first part of Florida’s legislation). The NWHN has been a prochoice organization since its founding.  One of the three program priorities identified by the NWHN is to ensure that women have self-determination in all aspects of their reproductive and sexual health.

If anti-choicers want to stop abortion, they should devote their efforts to reproductive health and family planning initiatives, making it easier for women to prevent unwanted pregnancies. There are so many contraceptive methods on the market, yet some women do not have the funds to procure them, and not all of them are good options! The NWHN's reproductive and sexual health program starts with our commitment to abortion rights and to women’s ability to make informed choices from a comprehensive range of safe and effective tools for contraception and disease-prevention. According to the Guttmacher Institute (2006), expanding Medicaid coverage for contraceptives to match coverage for pregnancy would prevent 500,000 unwanted pregnancies, and 200,000 abortions each year. So my opinion is that state legislatures should be proactive, not reactive! Instead of putting money into abortion law regulation in a backhanded attempt to prohibit abortion, put it into preventative services.

•    ACLU information about public funding for abortion. http://www.aclu.org/reproductive-freedom/public-funding-abortion
•    President’s executive order to uphold the Hyde Amendment http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/executive-order-patient-prote...
•    Guttmacher Institute Study http://www.guttmacher.org/media/nr/2006/08/16/index.html
•    St.Petersburg Times “Gov. Charlie Crist vetoes abortion bill”
•      http://www.tampabay.com/news/health/gov-charlie-crist-vetoes-abortion-bi...
•    Medical News Today “Veto Of Kan. Antiabortion Bill Stands; Tenn. Bill On Insurance Exchanges Becomes Law”  http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/188007.php
•    Associated Press “Kan. gov has week to decide on anti-abortion bill” http://www.kwch.com/Global/story.asp?S=12277368
•    New York Times “Abortion Foes Advance Cause at State Level” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/03/health/policy/03abortion.html


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