5 Times Abortion Laws Failed Pregnant Women

Today is International Safe Abortion Day. The anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, which banned Medicaid coverage for abortions and has been blocking low-income women from receiving care for more than 40 years, is this Saturday. These two events were formed independently of each other, but, side by side, they highlight the urgent need for safe reproductive healthcare in America. Reuters recently reported that a link has been found between restrictive abortion laws and unsafe abortions — of which there are more than 25 million a year, according to the World Health Organization.

To celebrate the auspicious anniversary, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner is expected to sign into law a bill that unravels the Hyde Amendment's hold on women's rights in his state. HB 40 would remove bans in place on people with Medicaid or state employee health insurance, protecting their ability to get abortion care. In doing so, he'd follow Oregon, which passed a similar law back in July.

With the Hyde Amendment in place, women across the country are struggling to afford abortions that are already increasingly difficult to access. When paying out of pocket is prohibitive, some delay their procedures by weeks in order to get the money they need, putting their health at risk in the process. And, in many of these cases, their doctors aren't able to help.

In partnership with Physicians for Reproductive Heath (PRH), doctors are speaking out about how the Hyde Amendment has prevented their patients from getting the care they need. Ahead, read five of their stories.

The conversation around safe access to abortion shouldn't stop after this week. Add to the discussion in the comments here or share your story with PRH's Voices of Courage.

She could not afford another child.

“Tasha is a 24-year-old single mother of two young children. She explained to me that she needed to have an abortion because she could not afford another child at this time. She has Pennsylvania Medicaid coverage, but due to the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortion, she did not have insurance coverage for her procedure.

"Tasha explained, 'I felt so desperate picking up extra shifts at work, borrowing money, and selling my things to cover the cost.' Tasha’s extraordinary efforts to obtain funding significantly prolonged her pregnancy by a matter of weeks, thereby necessitating a second trimester abortion. If the Hyde Amendment were overturned, women like Tasha could access abortion procedures when they need them.”

— Dr. Alhambra Frarey from Pennsylvania

The military health insurance wouldn’t cover the abortion unless Carol’s life was in danger.

“My patient Carol was excited to give birth to her first child. Her husband was a Marine serving in Afghanistan. Sadly, in her second trimester, Carol learned that her baby had a lethal anomaly. She and her husband made the difficult decision to have an abortion.

"That’s when they learned that the military health insurance they relied on wouldn’t cover the abortion unless Carol’s life was in danger.

"Her husband was outraged. He had just flown back from Afghanistan to be with her, and he angrily asked me, ‘I’m over there defending my country, and they won’t even take care of my family?’”

— Dr. Nancy Stanwood from New York

This was never the life she imagined for herself.

“I met Maria when she was several months pregnant and in need of an abortion. She didn’t speak English and, besides her boyfriend and his family, she didn’t know anyone in the United States. When I asked her who had accompanied her to the clinic, I was surprised to hear that she didn’t know his name. Her boyfriend, she said, would hurt her if he knew she was pregnant. So she told a friend of his, and asked him to help her pay for the abortion. The friend did help, but only in exchange for sexual favors. As she confided this to me, Maria began to cry. This was never the life she imagined for herself.

"To repeal the Hyde Amendment is to provide a wider catch net and prevent cases like Maria’s. Private insurance and state funding is not enough to provide every woman in this country with the reproductive rights they deserve, and it’s not enough to prevent women from reverting to acts of desperation.”

- Dr. Jenn Conti from California

An abortion might give her some emotional relief.

“My patient Sherry is 24, pregnant, and the mother of a 7-month-old son. Although her pregnancy was not planned, Sherry and her husband were initially excited to have a little brother or sister for their boy. Then Sherry’s early ultrasound showed she had twins. She and her husband spent several weeks eagerly anticipating the growth of their family.

"But the next ultrasound showed that the twins are conjoined. The babies are joined at the head, sharing a brain, and chest, sharing a heart. They have two spines, four arms, and four legs. It would be impossible to separate them. If they survive after birth, it would only be for a few minutes. One heart can’t keep two bodies alive. The risk of stillbirth is also very high.

"Sherry must decide whether to continue her pregnancy. An abortion might give her and her husband some emotional relief.

"But because Sherry’s insurance will not pay for her abortion, she has to worry about money on top of her other fears. She is on Medicaid, which will cover the twins’ delivery, alive or dead, but not an abortion — fetal abnormality isn’t enough to get around the Hyde Amendment. Although the abortion would be less expensive in a clinic, Sherry would have to go to a hospital since she could need surgery. She would be responsible for the entire bill of at least $10,000 to cover the operating room, anesthesia, medication, and other fees. This expense would destroy her family’s financial well-being.

"Sherry’s pregnancy is medically rare, but her dilemma about money is all too familiar. When a woman doesn’t have insurance coverage for abortion, she and her family suffer.”

— Dr. Renee Mestad from New York

Olivia paid $3,000 out of pocket for her care.

"I treated a woman last year named Olivia. Her husband was in the military, and they and their young daughter were covered through his insurance. Olivia was 17 weeks pregnant and had found out that her fetus had Trisomy 18. Trisomy 18 is a condition that affects the brain and other organs and is generally lethal. Most babies with this condition die in utero or shortly after birth. Olivia was devastated. I remember she came in with her sister; her husband was then stationed in Iraq.

"Olivia felt that she could not continue her pregnancy. However, military health insurance will only cover abortion when the woman’s life is in danger. [It] considered an abortion in this heartbreaking situation to be 'elective' and could not be convinced to pay for the abortion. Olivia paid $3,000 out of pocket for her care. Coming up with the funds was a tremendous hardship on her and her 1-year-old daughter. The harsh restrictions in Olivia’s insurance coverage made an already tragic situation that much more difficult.”

— Dr. Amy Bryant from North Carolina

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