We trust patients to make the best decisions about their health care for their own lives.
Politicians should too. But far too many anti-choice extremists at all levels of government continue to propose laws that restrict a patient’s ability to access safe and legal abortion.
Anti-choice legislators at the state and national levels have passed laws that limit a patient’s access to abortion care by banning federal and state funding for the procedure in most cases, prohibiting insurance coverage for abortion care, and placing unnecessary, harmful restrictions on health-care clinics.
Someone’s access to abortion shouldn’t depend on their ZIP code, their health insurance, or how much is in their bank account. Everyone should have the autonomy to make decisions about their body and their life.
Bans on Private Health Insurance Coverage
Anti-choice politicians have enacted laws that prohibit insurers from including abortion coverage in their health plans, preventing many patients from using health insurance to cover abortion care. Without insurance coverage, patients are forced to bear the cost entirely on their own, despite having paid for health insurance—and for low-income individuals, this may put the procedure financially out of reach.
Such state laws may:
- Prohibit abortion coverage in the state’s entire private insurance market.
- Prohibit abortion coverage in insurance plans that participate in the health-care exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act.
- Prohibit abortion coverage for public employees in the state.
In Virginia, state employees cannot obtain abortion coverage through their state government insurance, Medicaid recipients do not have abortion coverage except in exceptional circumstances consistent with the Hyde Amendment and in cases of gross fetal abnormality, and residents cannot obtain abortion insurance coverage on the newly established state exchange. We are committed to fighting for greater access.
The Hyde Amendment
The Hyde Amendment (and related restrictions) is a discriminatory federal policy that restricts access to abortion for individuals who receive their health care through the government. This far-reaching policy affects many programs, resulting in millions of people being denied insurance coverage for abortion care. They include:
- People enrolled in Medicaid and Medicare
- Native Americans
- U.S. servicemembers and veterans
- Peace Corps volunteers
- Federal employees
- People who live in Washington, D.C.
- People in immigration detention facilities and prisons
As Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote, the Hyde amendment was “designed to deprive poor and minority women of the constitutional right to choose abortion.” And that’s exactly what this policy does.
By forcing low-income individuals to carry unintended pregnancies to term or spend a large portion of their income to pay for abortion care, Congress creates more barriers to people lifting themselves out of poverty. Patients without abortion coverage are forced to use funds they would spend on necessities such as food and rent to pay for an abortion. In many cases, finding the money to pay for the abortion results in a delay in care, which means the procedure becomes even more expensive.
In Virginia, state Medicaid funding does cover abortions in cases consistent with the Hyde Amendment–i.e. rape, incest and when the continuing the pregnancy will endanger the person’s life. Additionally, thanks to continued effort from advocates, the Virginia state budget has included funding for abortions for patients who would financially qualify for Medicaid in the rare cases when the fetus is certified by physicians to have an incapacitating physical deformity or mental deficiency. In 2019, the anti-choice legislature stripped this funding from the budget, but it was restored during the 2020 legislative session.
The Helms Amendment
Enacted in 1973, the Helms amendment has prevented U.S. foreign aid from helping some of the world’s poorest individuals access abortion care. Because the language of the policy has been wrongly interpreted and implemented over the years, the Helms amendment has resulted in a near-total ban on U.S. assistance to some of the world’s poorest individuals who need abortion care, even when a patient’s life is in danger or they are a survivor of rape or incest.
The U.S. government can and should issue guidance to U.S.-funded health centers overseas clarifying that these exceptions—when consistent with local law—are permissible and that U.S. funds may pay for abortion care in these cases. While this would fall far short of a full repeal, it would be a step in the right direction.
Abortion Bans Throughout Pregnancy
Anti-choice politicians in many states have used a variety of tactics to enact abortion bans earlier and earlier in pregnancy. The most common type of abortion ban in recent years is a ban on abortion after 20 weeks. These laws interfere with a patient’s ability to make the decision that is best for themselves and their family, and often come into play under heartbreaking circumstances surrounding a pregnancy or when a patient’s health is at risk. These bans also criminalize doctors for the care they provide.
A few states have gone even further, passing laws to ban abortion as early as six weeks—before many even realize they’re pregnant. These laws are effectively outright bans on abortion.
In Virginia, although such bans have been introduced over the years, thanks to the work of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and our partners, none have made it into the Virginia Code. We will continue to fight against any such efforts in the future.
Abortion Procedure Bans
In 2003, President George W. Bush signed into law the Federal Abortion Ban. The first federal law to criminalize a safe medical procedure, this ban means doctors may not be able to use the abortion procedure they believe is best for a patient. The ban has no exception to protect a patient’s health and is widely opposed by leading medical groups. Several states have passed similar bans—a redundant and overtly political move. Virginia Code mimics the federal prohibition.
“Personhood” measures seek to outlaw abortion by redefining the term “person” to include a fertilized egg or embryo—with the intent of outlawing abortion.
In addition, “personhood” measures often sweep in bans on stem cell research and in vitro fertilization, as well as many common forms of birth control. Ultimately, these measures have no exceptions to protect a patient’s life or health, and could even criminalize a patient for having an abortion.
Voters have repeatedly rejected “personhood” ballot initiatives as too extreme and harmful to patients and their health. However, anti-choice groups and politicians continue to introduce them in the hopes of mounting a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade.
Domestic Gag Rule – Restricting Title X
Title X, established in 1970, is the only federal statute mandating the issue of grants for family planning and health services to low-income and uninsured people who can’t otherwise afford these services. The program is overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services nationally. It is designed to ensure that all people, regardless of income, have access to some basic preventative reproductive care, including birth control, cancer screenings and STI testing and treatment.
Every year, Title X funding serves more than four million people. More than one-third of Title X recipients are Latinx and people of color, and 13 percent have limited proficiency in English.