Lift the Bans for All of Us

Taken from the November/December 2013 of the Women's Health Activist Newsletter.

Following the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide, women in many states gained access to safe and legal abortion care for the first time. Today, when state restrictions on abortion care are proliferating and reducing women’s access to abortion services, it’s easy to be nostalgic about those years.

But, even in those early, post-Roe years, anti-choice activists and politicians started trying to create barriers that would limit women’s access to abortion services. The NWHN recognized the threat this posed to women's health and mobilized against the efforts. Our very first call to action urged members to oppose the Hyde Amendment, a Congressional proposal that barred the Federal government from spending Federal funds to pay for abortion care in the Medicaid program, the joint Federal-State public insurance program for low-income people who are too poor to afford health care on their own. Unfortunately, we were unable to stop it, and, since 1976, Congress has withheld Federal funds for abortion coverage in most circumstances to women insured through Medicaid. The Hyde Amendment also prohibits coverage for abortion to women with disabilities who are insured through the Medicare program.

Scope & Impact of Abortion Coverage Bans

Although 15 states provide their own funds to cover this vital care to women who qualify for Medicaid and Medicare, the vast majority of states have followed the Federal government’s lead and imposed their own harmful bans.  This leaves most low-income women in the country without this essential health insurance coverage for abortion care.

The effort that began with the Hyde Amendment has expanded since then. Anti-choice politicians in Congress built on the paradigm, chipping away at women’s access to abortion services by enacting additional legislative restrictions on insurance coverage for abortion. These include prohibitions on Federal funding for abortion care for military personnel, other Federal employees and their dependents.

And, in many states, opponents of abortion rights have succeeded in extending bans on insurance coverage for abortion into the private market — imposing political interference on private health insurance companies’ decisions about what services they will cover. At press time, for example, 23 states have prohibited private insurance plans offered through the Health Insurance Marketplaces from covering abortion in most circumstances.

These unjust restrictions prevent a woman from making the best decisions for herself and her family, and pose a serious threat to the health of every woman affected, and to the well-being of her family. The restrictions fall hardest on low-income women, women of color, immigrant women, and young women — who are already at a disadvantage in accessing the resources, information, and services needed to prevent an unintended pregnancy.

Researchers have found that restricting Medicaid coverage for abortion care forces one in four women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, and that a woman who wants to get an abortion but is denied one is three times more likely to fall into poverty than a woman who is able get an abortion.1 Tragically, we’ve also seen that bans on coverage can make a woman who needs an abortion, but lacks coverage, vulnerable to rogue providers who offer cut-rate and poor-quality services to people in desperate straits.

All* Above All

It’s long past time to take a stand against this injustice. The NWHN is proud to be a partner in the All* Above All campaign, with other organizations and individuals who are building support for lifting bans that deny abortion coverage. Our vision is to restore insurance coverage so that every woman — no matter how much she makes or where she lives — can get affordable, safe abortion care when she needs it.

The campaign name reflects our belief that each of us, not just some of us, must be able to make the important decision of whether to end a pregnancy. For too long, politicians have been allowed to deny a woman’s abortion coverage just because she is poor. We are standing up to say “enough.” All*Above All stands for women who are struggling to get by, to ensure that they can make their own reproductive health decisions without political interference. The campaign is a platform to:

  • Harness the energy of supporters who want to take a bold stand for the belief that the amount of money a woman has or doesn’t have should not prohibit her from having an abortion.
  • Protect policies in the 15 states that currently offer abortion coverage through state Medicaid programs for women who are struggling to get by.
  • Motivate policymakers to stop new attacks on coverage and overturn existing coverage restrictions;
  • Accelerate the long-term culture shift needed to ensure affordable, safe abortion care, especially for low-income women.

In 1976, the NWHN sent its call to action against the Hyde Amendment to our grassroots members through the U.S. Postal Service. Today, we are a part of the All* Above All campaign, which includes good, old-fashioned grassroots mobilization, social and digital engagement, and both national paid and earned media.

Taking Action to Lift the Bans

The campaign is revealing the strong — and largely untapped — support that exists for lifting the bans that Congress and many states have imposed on abortion coverage. All around the country, people are standing up for the belief that the amount of money a woman has or doesn’t have should not prohibit her from having an abortion. Campaign activities are locally tailored and led, so they’re different in different places, but All* Above All’s bold take shines through everywhere. These are just a few highlights of work that All* Above All state and local partners have done nationwide over the last year to raise awareness of the harmful effects of the bans and to catalyze activism against them:

  • More than 1,000 Minnesotans at the 2013 State Fair pledged support for abortion coverage and took “selfie” photos to share on Facebook and Twitter, explaining why abortion access matters to them.
  • West Virginians successfully lobbied against two proposed abortion coverage bans, and hundreds convened for spirited rallies at the State House and West Virginia University to stand against further attacks on abortion access threatened by the state’s Attorney General.
  • Organizers in Oregon have been educating supporters about repeated — but as-yet unsuccessful — anti-choice attempts to ban abortion coverage in the Oregon Health Plan.
  • A 2012 Florida ballot initiative that would have banned public funding for abortion care in the state was defeated thanks to voter education and mobilization, including 25,000 calls made by All* Above All partners to voters who pledged to vote against the ban.

All* Above All partners are also working with local public officials to demonstrate support for public insurance coverage of abortion care. City and county councils and boards of health in Austin, Texas, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and New York City have passed resolutions calling for coverage of abortion care; resolutions are being developed in several other cities as well.

The All* campaign generates a particularly strong response among youth. From Cerritos College in Los Angeles, to the University of California’s Berkeley campus, from Prince George’s Community College in Maryland, to the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, thousands of students have signed petitions asking Congress to lift the ban on abortion coverage.

Ultimately, this change requires Congressional action. The NWHN is working with our allies in All* Above All and with champions of women’s health and reproductive justice in Congress to lay the foundation for this. We are shifting the conversation about restrictions on public and private abortion coverage toward a proactive discussion about the inequity, injustice, and harm to women’s health the bans cause, and building Congressional support to change policy so all women have access to affordable abortion care. We are working toward a day when, instead of the Federal government leading the way in imposing harmful and unjust restrictions (as it has for almost 40 years), we will be able to point to the Federal government as a model — whether acting as insurer, employer, or health care provider — for ensuring coverage for abortion services.

Take Your Own Bold Stand for Abortion Coverage for Every Woman

To learn more about All* Above All and take your own bold stand for abortion coverage for every woman, click here and tell Congress to lift the bans!

Amy Allina, MA, is a leader in women’s health advocacy who spent 15 years on NWHN staff as Program Director and Deputy Director. Throughout her career, Amy has used her expertise to further women’s rights including serving on the board for the Universal Health Care Network and consulting for organizations like Planned Parenthood and the International Family Planning Coalition.

Read more from Amy Allina.

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1. Boonstra H, “The Heart of the Matter: Public Funding of Abortion for Poor Women in the United States,” Guttmacher Policy Review 2007; 10(1). Available online at: