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Reproductive Rights Shouldn't Be Just for the Rich

Brigitte Amiri,
Deputy Director,
ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
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March 3, 2015

I just returned from spending two weeks in Alaska challenging a law that withholds almost all Medicaid coverage for abortion from qualified women. Alaska is really far away, and two weeks is a long time to be away from my family, including my two-year-old daughter.

But I am honored to be part of the team that is fighting this law in order to help other families. If we don’t win, the consequences will be devastating. Without Medicaid coverage for abortion, some women will be forced to carry a pregnancy to term, despite the consequences to their families and their physical and mental health.

During the two-week trial, our witnesses testified over and over again why abortion is important for their patients’ lives, and they shared the following stories about their patients:

  • A woman who had four kids, and was in an unstable marriage, sought an abortion when she was distressed because of another pregnancy. Both parents were working multiple jobs. If they had another child, the woman would have had to quit her job, which would have cut the family’s income in half. She wouldn’t have been able to provide her family with the basic necessities.
  • One woman experienced a relapse of her mental illness when she became pregnant. She suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, which caused her to tap three times every time she spoke. Her mental health stabilized after she had an abortion.
  • One young woman, who would have been the first in her family to go to college, was so distraught over her unintended pregnancy that she stopped eating and sleeping. She became socially withdrawn.

These women were able to obtain an abortion, but women like them may not be able to do so if the law in Alaska goes into effect. Our witnesses testified that even the smallest unexpected expense can send a family into financial chaos, and patients routinely delay or forgo health care because they can’t afford it. Low-income families often do not have the hundreds of dollars needed to pay for an abortion.

Unfortunately, Alaska’s not alone.

States across the country are working in various ways to make it harder, and sometimes impossible, for a woman to obtain an abortion. A new investigation conducted by Think Progress underscores the consequences that abortion restrictions will have on low-income women. What was true before Roe v. Wade is true today: Rich women will always have access to abortion, while low-income women may not.

This isn’t right. Whatever feelings any of us have about abortion, most of us also believe that it is not our place to decide for someone else whether or not she should end her pregnancy.

While in Alaska I met a tugboat captain who summed it up nicely. He was onshore for a few days and was staying in the same hotel as I was. He was eating breakfast in the lobby of our hotel, and we started chatting. He asked what brought me to Alaska. I’m always unsure how people will react to my job. But I decided to tell him. I explained that politicians passed a law withholding almost all Medicaid coverage for abortion from qualified women. He took a minute to chew his food.

He looked up at me and said, “F**k them. Politicians shouldn’t tell women what to do.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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