Just this week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a bill that prohibits health insurance companies from covering elective abortions of any kind. This includes insurance plans on the ObamaCare exchanges and even private employer-based plans.
Proponents of House Bill 214 are hailing its passage as a victory for state taxpayers, who are no longer compelled to subsidize medical procedures that they may find morally objectionable. Lead author Rep. John Smithee (R-Texas) even called it an exercise in "economic freedom."
Lost in that line of reasoning, however, is the fundamental concern for a woman's most basic human rights. Smithee’s law purposefully does not make any exceptions for an elective abortion even in cases of rape, incest, or severe fetal abnormalities.
This is not a forgotten afterthought.
The bill was heavily debated in both the Texas House and Senate with Democratic lawmakers repeatedly bringing this issue up to the Republican majority. Rep. Chris Turner even argued that forcing women to, “buy supplemental insurance to cover that horrific possibility [of rape or incest] is not only ridiculous, it is cruel.” He was soundly ignored.
At issue here goes beyond a woman's right to choose versus the unborn's right to live, a debate that has passionate supporters on both sides. This is certainly not just about "economic freedom" for the Texan taxpayer.
It is about economic violence against women, forcing them to pay additional out of market premiums just to protect themselves in the event of an already horrifying scenario of sexual assault. In essence, the law forces women to find what Rep. Turner has described as "rape insurance." Either that or suffer potentially harrowing consequences.
The costs for an elective abortion are not trivial. A surgical abortion can cost up to $1500 in the first trimester to around $10,000 in the second trimester. In a civilized society, women should never have to choose between going bankrupt paying to terminate her rape-induced pregnancy, or otherwise having to carry her rapist's baby to term. Women should never be forced to find "rape insurance" just to avoid having to make those kinds of choices.
To make matters worse, it is the disproportionately poor and low income patients who are both more likely to be victims of rape and who have higher rates of abortions compared to the middle class. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that women with a household income of less than $25,000 per year are in fact twice as likely to be raped compared to those with a household income of $50,000 or more.
Moreover, according to the Guttmacher Institute nearly 75 percent of abortion patients are poor and 26 percent of these patients live below the federal poverty level. These are precisely the type of women who need complete health insurance, yet are the ones who will be targeted the most under this law.
Rape victims by definition lose control over their own bodies during rape. Texas lawmakers essentially just took away that last drop of control women have afterwards. This law would have been much less controversial had they included these very basic exceptions and it is beyond puzzling why they did not do so. It is also ironic that they speak of economic freedom for the taxpayer while subjecting women to the most cruel form of economic control.
Dr. Eugene Gu is a resident physician at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center and president of the Ganogen Research Institute. He graduated from Stanford University with honors and holds an M.D. from the Duke University School of Medicine.
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