How High-Risk Women Lose in the New Abortion Fight

Contributed by Annamarya and Maria

In July, the Obama administration banned abortion coverage in the new insurance program for high-risk pools, a move that’s pissed off (and rightfully so) many women’s organization. This new policy, according to a July 16 article published in The Daily Beast, will deny insurance coverage to women with significant health issues (diabetes, cancer…etc) for the next three years, even if their health is further at risk. Says DB: “Pregnant women diagnosed with cancer or other debilitating diseases are often advised to undergo abortions, as are women whose fetuses develop with birth defects that make life outside the womb impossible. Under the new ban, both of those types of abortions could be defined as “elective” and thus denied insurance funding, as is already the case for federal employees.”

Politicians are deciding who may have abortions and the implications of such a decision go beyond the scope of ethics. The Obama administration has yet to give a clear reason as to why high-risk pools were the targets of this anti-reproductive rights ban but there is no doubt in our minds that money played a significant role in this ban—and not just the question of how much to spend on medical procedures, but the income brackets of those able to have certain medical procedures. Typically, impaired risk cases cost more money to insure—whether it’s a health or life insurance policy—so our spidey senses tell us that this is also a move to save the federal government a little cash. This is simply illogical because women with low incomes and high risk pregnancies are now forced to pay out of pocket for an abortion, even though in both cases this implies a hefty financial burden. Case in point: according to The Daily Beastarticle, federal employee D.J. Feldman was denied insurance funding for aborting a fetus diagnosed with anencephaly (developed sans skull, scalp or brain), and was told by her insurance company that their medical experts “determined” she could carry to term because her “life was not in danger,” therefore she owed $9,000. If health care reform is aimed at helping those most in need, it’s only logical to wonder why and ask more questions.

But the fight is not only here in the States – according to an August 2 article published in The Associated Press, the US-based advocacy group, Center for Reproductive Rights, has recently urged the Philippines government to reform its ban on abortion (which forbids abortion in all circumstances) because the tough law has “spawned widespread underground procedures” that kill an estimated 1,000 women each year. These “crude and painful” abortions, which the group says about 560,000 women in the Philippines in 2008 underwent and 90,000 women suffered complications from, involve inserting catheters into the uterus or intense abdominal messages by traditional midwives (according to AP, these numbers were backed up by a 2008 report issued by the US-based nonprofit Guttmacher Institute in conjunction with the University of the Philippines Population Institute).

Just because something may not be right for you, that doesn’t give you the right to impose your values on someone else. Why can’t a woman decide to terminate a pregnancy, even if medical experts have declared that the baby will not be able to survive outside of the womb? Why is it that, in some states (and countries), only women whose pregnancies were caused by sexual abuse may legally seek out abortions? And how can we know for certain that pregnancies were caused by sexual abuse in the first place?

These questions need to be asked. That such a distinction can be made about the worthiness of would-be patients is not new; transplant boards often make decisions concerning the worthiness of an organ recipient. But in making those same judgments about women who seek abortions, a new can of worms is opened. A hierarchy is established, with those deemed deserving of abortions at the top. The availability of legal abortions is slowly diminishing and the days of wire hangers in the States loom ever closer – especially for women who can’t afford safe alternatives.

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