As the new executive director at the Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center in Bangor, the state’s only independent feminist abortion provider, I have quickly learned that one of the greatest challenges for women seeking care is financial. These are women who would otherwise be eligible for pregnancy-related care through Medicaid (MaineCare) if they decided to stay pregnant. However, because of the Hyde Amendment, federal programs like Medicaid are restricted from paying for abortion care. This antiquated policy, put in place nearly 40 years ago, leaves poor women to fend for themselves to scrap together funding.
We often hear from women who had to sell their belongings or skip paying other bills to pay for a procedure, and many who end up delaying care. Denying coverage for abortion care has a significant impact on public health, adding to barriers to care that women with low income, immigrant women, young women, and women of color are already facing. In fact, restrictions on Medicaid coverage of abortion forces one in four women seeking abortion to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.
I applaud U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree for signing on as an original co-sponsor of the “Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act,” that would end this discriminatory practice and ensure that women with low income have equal rights and access to all reproductive health care including abortion, ensuring their constitutional rights are not being violated. This groundbreaking legislation for reproductive justice would also remove the barriers for women seeking abortion care who serve in our military, Peace Corps, or who are receiving health care from a government provider or program.
We can no longer abide by a policy that treats the rights of women in this country according to two different standards: whether you can afford to pay for your rights or not. This policy strikes at the very heart of what we understand to be our constitutionally protected “right to choose.” The relentless political attacks on women’s health are not new; and they sadly are not letting up, but this type of coercion feels particularly egregious. Rather than refraining from interference in the most intimate of decisions about a woman’s life, politicians are telling women, quite simply, that the government will pay for you to give birth, but not pay for you to have an abortion. How much “choice” can a woman exercise if she cannot afford to pay for the procedure?
Access to abortion care is more threatened than it has been since Roe v. Wade, as anti-choice activists continue to hack away at women’s rights and introduce more restrictions on abortion, each more ridiculous and ill-conceived than the last. Despite the fact that a majority of Americans identify as pro-choice, and that abortion is a safe, routine medical procedure, politicians continue to play politics with women’s health. Fortunately, a majority of Maine state legislators voted down two harmful anti-choice bills this session but in states like Texas, dozens of clinics have shut down, forcing some women to travel hundreds of miles to seek care. Other states are seeking to impose similar restrictions that are not at all related to women’s health but squarely focused on the bullseye of impeding access to abortion.
By supporting the EACH Woman Act, Pingree and other members of Congress are proactively seeking to halt this tidal wave of hostility toward women and should be celebrated. Their bold, decisive action is exactly the kind of leadership we need to improve women’s lives and economic security. Under the EACH Woman Act, politicians will no longer be able to interfere with a woman’s reproductive decision-making by withholding insurance coverage for abortion care.
The EACH Woman Act is so powerful because it declares that each woman’s life matters and each woman’s story matters. At the Mabel Wadsworth Center, we celebrate women’s lives and unique experiences every day by providing non-judgmental and compassionate care no matter what a woman’s story or background. We are proud to support this legislation and thank Pingree and her colleagues for taking such bold and visionary action on behalf of women’s health.
Andrea L. Irwin is executive director of the Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center in Bangor.