Should a woman’s ability to decide whether to become a parent depend on how much money she has or where she lives? Or should the decision be up to her?
The decision of when and if to become a parent has become a matter of public discourse, with lawmakers holding too much influence over what should be a private family discussion. Lower income women, who are disproportionately of color, are trapped in a cycle where the medical assistance programs meant to help them cut off their ability to make un-coerced decisions about their health and pregnancies.
At least 1 in 6 women of reproductive age (15-44) are enrolled in Medicaid. In my own community, over 1 million Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women are living in poverty, and the number of AAPI poor rose almost 40 percent between 2007 and 2011. Given the already existing cultural, linguistic, and immigration barriers to health care access already faced by many AAPI women and families, laws that deny coverage to comprehensive reproductive health care services based on income are an insult to injury.
That a woman could be forced to carry a pregnancy to term simply by virtue of the fact that she cannot afford to do anything else is a tragedy that has been happening for nearly as long as abortion has been legal. Year after year, the Hyde Amendment bans Medicaid coverage of abortion and denies those who are struggling financially the same full-spectrum reproductive health care available to other women. Through Hyde and other funding restrictions, too many women have been forced to decide between an abortion they cannot afford or continuing a pregnancy they do not want.
The long list of women affected by these bans includes not only those who are enrolled in Medicaid, but also those who work for the government or defend our country, as well as women who receive their insurance through someone else who does. More recently, this list has extended to include women who live in the ten states where anti-choice policymakers have barred all insurance plans from covering abortion. Also at risk are those women who live in the numerous other states that now demand the purchase of an additional rider in case a family member needs an abortion in the future. That’s right—in some places, a woman’s abortion coverage is dependent on her ability to predict the future. Truly, anti-choice lawmakers seem to have endless tricks to financially pressure pregnant women into not obtaining an abortion.
When politicians deny coverage, they deny some women the right to make pregnancy decisions—and the harm falls disproportionately on low-income women, women of color, and young women. None of us should have our reproductive rights denied simply because we are struggling to make ends meet. But with these funding restrictions in place, the right to decide when and if to continue a pregnancy belongs only to those who can afford it.
We cannot allow politicians to keep decisions about pregnancy out of reach for those who cannot afford otherwise. We cannot accept the continuing segregation of abortion and birth control from standard health care. We cannot leave our reproductive rights to the whim of politicians who use financial blackmail to coerce and influence our personal decision-making. But when abortion care is removed from the list of medical procedures covered by insurance plans, these are our realities.
With the just-introduced but long overdue EACH [Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance] Woman Act – sponsored by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) -- every woman will be allowed to make the choices in her pregnancy that are best for her and her family, without interference from lawmakers. This policy is supported by a majority in our country. For the AAPI community, this is a no-brainer— the majority of AAPIs believe a woman’s decision to get an abortion is a private matter, not one for political interference. Under the EACH Woman Act, insurance coverage of abortion will no longer be a political pawn in Congressional floor debates, or subject to the moral doctrines of anti-choice legislators.
While it won’t take down every barrier to abortion, the EACH Woman Act will go a long way towards ensuring that every woman and family has access to the same coverage and choices, independent of income, location, and source of insurance.
Each woman would truly have the right to determine her own future. And isn’t that something each of us deserves?
Yeung is executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF).