Speaking of Women's Rights: Ensuring Equal Access to Abortion Coverage: The EACH Woman Act

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Ensuring Equal Access to Abortion Coverage: The EACH Woman Act

By Megan E. Veith

Although Roe v. Wade has been the law since 1973, for almost as long, low-income and many other women been prohibited from accessing abortion care. Not only have states increasingly enacted restrictions on abortion, but the federal Hyde Amendment, passed yearly by Congress since 1976 in federal appropriations legislation, bans federal insurance coverage for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or to preserve the life of the mother.

Today in Washington, D.C., some members of Congress took a step in the right direction so that the promise of Roe can become a reality for more women. Representatives Barbara Lee, Jan Schakowsky, and Diana Degette introduced the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act, or the “EACH Woman Act.” This Act has two critically important features: first, it provides that every woman who has insurance through the federal government has coverage for abortion. This includes insurance provided through Medicaid, Medicare, FEHBP (the federal employees’ health care plan), TRICARE (military health care), Indian Health Services, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the Veterans Administration. Second, the Act prohibits legislators from interfering with coverage of abortion services in the private insurance market, such as plans established under the Affordable Care Act.

Currently, because of the Hyde Amendment, women on Medicaid or other federal health insurance programs are denied coverage for abortion. States are allowed to supplement with their own resources to cover abortion, but only 17 states currently do so. And even in those states, there are additional barriers: some women may not be aware of what coverage they are eligible to receive, or their state may lack sufficient abortion providers, so traveling to a provider requires even more resources. Moreover, legislators in some states have passed restrictions on private insurance coverage for abortion that are even stricter than those in the Hyde Amendment, such as allowing abortions only to preserve the mother’s life.

These restrictions on abortion coverage have a disproportionate impact on women who already face barriers to accessing quality health care, including low-income women, women of color, and immigrant women. Restrictions such as the Hyde Amendment make choice elusive in practice; a woman’s pregnancy options depend on how much money she makes or how she is insured.

Even in Washington State, which is one of the 17 states in which Medicaid does cover abortion, many women of reproductive age would benefit from this new bill because they are covered under other federally funded health insurance plans subject to the Hyde Amendment’s restrictions. For example, in 2013, about 44,417 Washington women had TRICARE/military health coverage, and about 5,633 had VA Health Care. The EACH Woman Act would ensure that all of these additional 50,050 women in Washington have coverage for abortion services, by removing access barriers and preventing politicians and providers from interfering with a woman’s right to abortion coverage in the future.

In September 2014, Legal Voice and its allies successfully advocated for the Seattle City Council to pass a resolution calling for a repeal of bans on federal abortion coverage. Six other local jurisdictions have passed similar resolutions, and we are pleased that the same rallying cry has now spread to the other Washington.

To learn more about the EACH Woman Act and how you can show your support for every woman’s right to abortion coverage, please visit All* Above All and use the hashtag #4EACHofUS on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of All* Above All.