Abortion became a U.S. Senate election topic recently when the Angus King campaign pointed out that Republican candidate Charlie Summers may have changed his position on the matter.
Summers’ campaign replied that Summers has always been pro-choice. But at times he has qualified his statements, sometimes saying that tax dollars should not be used to fund abortions and other times indicating he supports a woman’s right to choose in cases of rape, incest or if the life of the mother is in danger.
Many politicians, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney, add conditions to their support for abortion. But what is accomplished by making it more economically difficult and humiliating for women to access services?
The reality is the situations women face are often far more complicated than politicians’ speeches portray. Instead of focusing on how many restrictions they can impose, it would be more helpful to determine what needs improving and then work to improve it.
Abortions, regardless of their legality, will always be performed; making it more difficult for women to access care only insults them at an extremely difficult time.
In this election season, politicians and voters should remember a few points about who their policies would most harm and what effect that harm would have.
First, know that abortions will always be available to women with money. So any restrictions will most of all hurt poor women, who are statistically at greatest risk anyway of having an unintended pregnancy.
Between 1994 and 2001, the percentage of unintended pregnancies increased 29 percent among women living in poverty but fell 20 percent among more affluent women, the Guttmacher Institute found.
Second, know that the federal government already limits poor women’s access to abortions.
Soon after the 1973 Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade, abortion opponents enacted the Hyde Amendment, which withdrew funding for abortion under Medicaid, except in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest.
Women covered by Medicaid make up nearly one-third of abortion patients each year, but the law prevents them from using their insurance to pay for it. Some states have chosen to use their own money to fund abortions, but many, including Maine, have not.
Third, know that if the Hyde Amendment is an example of what happens when restrictions are imposed, coverage really isn’t provided at all. A study by Ibis Reproductive Health found that health care facilities performing abortions for Medicaid patients in the qualifying cases of rape, incest or life endangerment were often still not reimbursed, largely because Medicaid and the providers had differing definitions of the extreme circumstances.
Getting Medicaid-eligible women who have endured extreme hardship to prove it in to get an abortion has also proven degrading and onerous. Many states require women to submit police reports — even though most rape survivors never report to police.
In many cases, restrictions only postpone the procedure, increasing the likelihood of health complications. Waiting longer to get an abortion also increases the cost of one. Restrictive laws often do not stop women from having abortions and instead force them to seek out more dangerous means.
Politicians should be doing more, not less, to promote women’s health. While they debate adding more restrictions, women, their families and their communities will suffer.