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Joan Malin Headshot

Abortion Is Health Care

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In the thirty-seven years since Roe V. Wade was decided, we have seen women's access to abortion slowly eroded. There have been legal restrictions, mandatory waiting periods, prohibitions on federal funding, clinic closings, murders of providers, bomb threats, campaigns to stigmatize the procedure, and attempts to ban the procedure completely.

Yet, on this anniversary of Roe. V. Wade, Congress could pass one of the biggest restrictions to abortion access thus far. The health care reform bill, while currently in flux, contains language that would essentially eliminate insurance coverage for any and all abortions, leaving women much worse off than they were before.

Which leaves me begging the question: when will this country realize that abortion care is health care?

It was health care when, for example, a good friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer right in the middle of a very wanted pregnancy. She was put in a heartbreaking position: forgo her own lifesaving treatment and continue the pregnancy; or select to have an abortion and undergo chemotherapy, in the hopes that she could become pregnant again at a later time.

Under the restrictive language currently being considered by Congress, her abortion would not have been covered by her insurance, leaving her to face not only the anxiety of a medical procedure but the added stress of how to pay for it.

It's also health care when you're talking about some of the youngest patients we see. There are very real medical reasons why a young girl should not carry a pregnancy to term. While their situation may not be life-threatening, a pregnancy at that age can do severe, lasting damage to the girl's physical health.

Yet under the language being considered by Congress, these girls would not be able to have their abortions covered by medical insurance.

Neither would insurance cover an abortion for a woman who found out her fetus would not live for longer than a few hours past birth. Nor would it cover an abortion for a woman who found out that carrying a pregnancy to term would severely damage her health and/or her ability to bear children in the future. The bill's language only contains exceptions for life-threatening situations, not ones that just threaten a woman's general health.

Women will not stop getting abortions. The restrictive language in health care reform does nothing to change the reasons why women decide to get abortions; it only changes whether or not insurance policies will help pay for them. What this language will do, however, is make it more difficult to obtain a safe abortion. Women will delay care, or resort to increasingly more desperate means to raise money for the procedure, or find someone who will perform the procedure at a price they can afford.

Abortion is a legal medical procedure, one so common that one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Each woman faces her own unique situation when deciding whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. Ultimately though, that decision is about her health care.