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The fight to protect abortion rights heats up nationally and in PA

March 26, 2019 Category: FeaturedLongPurpose
Two weeks ago, Rep, Barbara Lee and Sen. Tammy Duckworth introduced the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH) Woman Act to lift certain federal restrictions on abortion funding that disproportionately affect low-income women and women of color.

The restrictions can have the effect of forcing one in four women in states where Medicaid doesn’t cover abortion to carry their unwanted pregnancies to term, according to a 2016 Guttmacher Institute report.

In Philadelphia and the rest of Pennsylvania, state legislation precluding Medicaid coverage of abortions also greatly undermines reproductive justice, according to Elicia Gonzales, executive director of the Women’s Medical Fund (WMF), a nonprofit that connects those in need with the funding to pay for an abortion.

“The current landscape is the result of a systematic attack on bodily agency, one that was intentional and by design,” she said.  

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Fighting for Abortion access in Philly and PA

In addition to the Medicaid coverage ban, health plans offered in the state’s health exchange under the Affordable Care Act cannot cover abortion, except in the case of rape, incest or if the mother’s life is in danger. Insurance policies for public employees are bound by the same constraints. There are further restrictions, as well: Abortion seekers must wait 24 hours after receiving state-mandated counseling before getting the procedure; minors must have parental consent; and there is no requirement that emergency care centers provide emergency contraception for rape patients.

WMF’s mission is to ensure access to abortion by providing counsel, referrals and emergency financial assistance, and by advocating for just legislation and building grassroots power, such as through community-building events.

Last year, WMF provided information, referrals, and support — including financial assistance – to 4,136 people. Eleven percent of those the organization served self-identified as Latinx — though Gonzales suspects that number is higher when including folks who are multi-racial. The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health released the results of a survey in 2018 that revealed that 33 percent of Latinxs surveyed could only afford to pay $10 toward birth control on a typical day, and that 44 percent of them have gone without their preferred method of birth control because it was inaccessible (because of cost, lack of insurance, or inability to get to a doctor for a prescription or refill). Another 19 percent of the Latinxs in the report knew someone who had delayed reproductive health care due to fear attached to their immigration status.

Though raised in largely Catholic or Evangelical homes, the NLIRH tracks that 64 percent uphold Roe v. Wade, and 74 percent believe abortion should remain legal despite most Catholic Church leaders’ opposition. Still, when seeking reproductive services, they may not be aware that Catholic hospitals don’t disclose which services they restrict.

In Philly, Latinxs experience poverty at a higher rate than any other demographic group and are especially impacted by the state’s restrictive policies. Moreover, according to Gonzales, Latinxs — especially those living in poverty — are preyed upon by crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). CPCs market themselves as comprehensive reproductive health centers, but they are known to present misleading information and omit or discourage abortion as an option.

CPCs, as well as adoption agencies and maternity homes, are supported by Real Alternatives (RA), an organization that was empowered by policy set by the late, then-Governor of Pennsylvania Robert Casey Sr. RA has received millions in Pennsylvania state funding for the past two decades and was recently investigated for allegedly misusing taxpayer money to expand to other states. Recently proposed changes to rules for the Title X family planning federal grant program would effectively redirect Planned Parenthood’s $60 million in yearly funding to faith-based and alternative providers like those supported by RA, further compromising access to comprehensive reproductive care for low-income communities.

In 2014, Pennsylvania had almost 100 CPCs and less than half that number of clinics offering abortion, with abortion providers available in only 15 percent of Pennsylvania counties. In January of 2019, the Women’s Law Project, the Women’s Medical Fund, and other reproductive rights advocates filed a lawsuit against the state of PA, alleging that the ban on Medicaid coverage for abortions violates the state’s constitutional Equal Rights Amendment.

“We are happy to join Women’s Law Project and others in a lawsuit against the State to lift the Medicaid ban,” Gonzales said. “But we know this will not go far enough. That’s why we must also work to build community power to ensure justice.”

Gonzales said she recently heard a colleague describe abortion access as a consent issue in the framework of the #MeToo movement — with the state as the perpetrator if the pregnancy is far enough along.

She agrees.

“It’s a matter of autonomy over one’s body and the right to decide if, when, and how many children to have,” she said. “Instead, people are being put in harm’s way. It’s an act of violence.”

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