ACLU and Maine Abortion Providers Appeal Judge’s Denial of Challenge to Maine Medicaid Abortion Coverage Ban
Judge Holds Maine Reproductive Privacy Act Does Not Protect Against Medicaid Discrimination
PORTLAND, Maine – Maine abortion providers have appealed a judge’s ruling against their challenge to MaineCare’s ban on insurance coverage for abortion. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Mabel Wadsworth Center, Maine Family Planning, and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England – three health care providers specializing in comprehensive reproductive and sexual health care, argues that the insurance ban violates the Maine Constitution and state statutes.
The lawsuit was filed in 2015, in Cumberland County Superior Court by lawyers from the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. The nonprofit health care providers provide reproductive and sexual health care, including abortion, to 21,500 Mainers each year, more than half of them low-income. On October 24, the Superior Court granted summary judgment to the defendant, Commissioner Ricker Hamilton of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
“Each of us should be able to make personal decisions about whether and when to have a child without politicians erecting barriers,” said Zachary Heiden, legal director of the ACLU of Maine. “We will continue to make the case that a woman cannot make a real decision about something as important as abortion if she can’t afford to have one.”
While MaineCare covers pregnancy-related care including prenatal care and childbirth, it withholds coverage for abortion. The lawsuit argues that, in doing so, the state interferes with a woman’s fundamental right to decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy and discriminates against women who decide to have an abortion.
“We are disappointed in the Superior Court’s decision, and we are seeking review at the Maine Law Court,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “This case raises important questions that must be answered by Maine’s highest Court. The right to abortion shouldn’t depend on your income, and we will not stop fighting for the rights of all women to get the care they need.”
The women harmed by this ban on abortion coverage are, by definition, low-income. For many of them, the denial of coverage for an abortion forces them to delay care. Some women are forced to make impossible decisions between paying for an abortion and paying for rent or heat. Still other women have been forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term against her will.
Maine health care providers, plaintiffs in this case, offer the following comments about the judge’s decision regarding abortion coverage in MaineCare:
“We talk to women every day who struggle to come up with the money to pay for abortion care. For Maine women living in rural areas who must travel long distances for care, the need is even greater,” said Andrea Irwin, executive director of Mabel Wadsworth Center. “We do not accept a policy that treats pregnant women in Maine according to two different standards – a woman should be able to use her Medicaid coverage for the medical services she needs, including abortion.”
“No one should be denied insurance coverage for abortion just because they are struggling financially,” said George Hill, President and CEO of Maine Family Planning. “Our patients need to be able to access safe, quality health care without needless burdens or delays.”
“Bans on insurance coverage for abortion can force a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term or push a family to the economic brink,” said Donna Burkett MD, medical director at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. “When a woman can make her own decisions about abortion and get coverage for the care she needs, it’s better for her health, her family, and all of us.”
More information about the case is at: https://www.aclu.org/cases/mabel-wadsworth-womens-health-center-v-mayhew.
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