The Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH) Woman Act, which would repeal the Hyde Amendment and require federal health insurance to cover abortion costs, was introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee and Sen. Tammy Duckworth in both houses of Congress last Tuesday. The Hyde Amendment bans federal funding for abortion with exceptions for cases of rape, incest, or a threat to a woman’s life.
The bill, which was originally introduced in 2015, would prohibit federal, state and local governments from passing laws that restrict private health insurance companies from offering abortion care, and restore abortion insurance coverage to the 28 million women who receive health insurance through the federal government and are currently denied coverage for an abortion procedure through the 1976 Hyde Amendment.
While the bill has been reintroduced in the House twice before, this is the first time the EACH Woman Act has been introduced in the Senate. Several senators and representatives have already shown support for the bill, including Sen. Mazie Hirono, Sen. Patty Muarray, and Sen. Kamala Harris. Representatives, Jan Schakowsky and Diana DeGette, Pro-Choice Caucus cochair with Rep. Barbara Lee, have also sponsored the bill.
“The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed women’s constitutional right to make their own reproductive decisions, and it didn’t say ‘only wealthy women’ or ‘only women with insurance,’” Duckworth said. “Whatever you think about the Supreme Court’s ruling, we should all agree that what’s legal for a wealthy American shouldn’t be illegal or inaccessible for a poor American or a person of color—and that’s what this bill is about: fairness, equality, and equal opportunity.”
Hyde creates two separate categories of American women: those who can afford to access their constitutional rights and those who cannot. Those who cannot include Native Americans, veterans, federal prisoners, employees of the federal government, and the 1 in 6 American women of reproductive age who are enrolled in Medicaid.
A ban on federal funds for abortion coverage forces women to pay out of pocket costs, averaging over $350, a substantial burden that forces one in four poor women seeking an abortion to carry their pregnancy to term. In addition to the ban on federal funds for coverage, 11 states restrict abortion coverage on private insurance policies and 26 states have laws restricting abortion coverage in insurance plans within state exchanges. Studies show that women who seek abortion but are denied are more likely to slip into poverty than women who are able to get an abortion.
Advocates of abortion access fear that eliminating tax subsidies and implementing strict regulations will push insurance companies to stop covering abortion for all women, as they are unlikely to offer a product that so many are effectively barred from purchasing.
Media Resources: Feminist Newswire 1/31/17; Guttmacher Institute 3/1/19; Bustle 3/12/19; Vogue 3/12/19