Amid the dishonest smear campaign against Planned Parenthood that has led to calls to defund this institution that helps millions of people stay healthy every year, I’ve seen a lot of people repeating the myth that tax dollars are used to pay for abortions. This is untrue – for decades the Hyde Amendment has denied coverage of abortion care to anyone who has federally funded health insurance.
I speak for many doctors who believe it is time to change that.
If a woman currently is insured through the federal government, she can be denied insurance coverage for abortion – a common, safe and legal medical procedure. This affects millions of women across the country, including women insured through Medicaid or the Indian Health Service and military personnel and their dependents.
That is why as a doctor who lives and practices in North Carolina, I am thrilled about legislation introduced in Congress in July that would fix our country’s – and this state’s – policies when it comes to abortion coverage: Cosponsored by over 70 members of Congress, including Reps. Alma Adams and David Price, the EACH Woman Act would end these restrictions and ensure that a woman’s ability to have an abortion does not depend on her insurance status or how much money she earns.
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After graduating from medical school in North Carolina, I trained in San Diego to be an obstetrician/gynecologist. Abortion was just one of many services I learned to provide.
After completing my residency, I moved to Atlanta, where I continued to provide the same comprehensive health care services I had offered in California. What changed is that before seeing a patient to discuss her pregnancy options, I had to review her insurance status. Why? Because in Georgia, Medicaid does not cover abortion.
I hated looking at my patients’ insurance status. During my medical training, I was taught to treat each patient the same, no matter what insurance she had. Although patients consider numerous factors when making the decision to terminate a pregnancy, in California the cost of the procedure was rarely one of them because the state uses its own funds to ensure that its Medicaid program covers abortion.
But in Georgia I had to consider that my patients with an insurance plan that denied abortion coverage would be unable to afford a hospital abortion. When medically possible, I referred women without coverage to an abortion clinic where the procedure was more affordable.
I still think about a service woman I cared for who had been sent home from deployment because she was pregnant. Her pregnancy was unplanned, just as over half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned.
As I took care of her, I thought about how unjust her situation was. Instead of being taken care of on base, she had to leave deployment, fly back to the United States, find an abortion clinic, coordinate with her command when she could go to an appointment, drive hours to see us and then pay out-of-pocket for the procedure. I kept wondering how this is considered acceptable treatment of the women serving our country.
Over the years, I have met countless women who struggled to afford abortion care. And all too often, while a woman who does not have coverage works to come up with the resources to pay for her procedure, the cost of her abortion goes up as these delays force her to seek care later in pregnancy. For many women, a restriction on abortion coverage quite simply becomes a ban on abortion altogether. Today, as more women than ever serve in our military, it is well past time that their health insurance cover the full range of reproductive health services, including abortion.
However we feel about abortion, we should be able to agree that it is bad policy when politicians are allowed to deny a woman health coverage for a safe and legal medical procedure. Every woman deserves to be able to make her own decisions about pregnancy and get the medical care she needs without emptying her bank account or going into debt.
I look forward to the day I am no longer forced to base my counseling and treatment plans on my patient’s insurance status and can just provide compassionate health care.
Elizabeth Deans, M.D., MPH, is an obstetrician/gynecologist in Durham.