It Turns Out, America Isn’t Nearly As Liberal On Abortion As Opponents Claim

This country isn’t nearly as liberal on abortion as opponents claim and complacent supporters assume. In fact, according to a recent international study, we’re straight up regressive thanks to our attitudes and policy on public funding for abortion care. Hopefully, the historic changes to the democratic party platform signal a priority shift in the political sphere to match the cultural one already underway.

A recent study on public funding of abortion in 80 countries from Ibis Reproductive Health and Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health University of California San Francisco (ANSIRH) found that 87% of the world’s female population of reproductive age live in a country where abortion care is at least partially covered by public funds.

Eighty-seven percent — and then there’s us.

The U.S. is one of only ten countries with liberal or liberally interpreted abortion laws that only cover abortion in exceptional cases like rape, incest, or to save the life of the pregnant person. As the rest of the world expands access, we have allowed our elected officials to put an extremely safe medical procedure that one in three women will have in their lifetime further and further out of reach, with 334 abortion restrictions enacted by states from 2011 to July 2016 and 445 provisions introduced this year so far.

The research found that in the 25 countries that have partial public funding for abortion, only seven countries limited that assistance to certain populations — low-income, married individuals, or those of specific ages. Rather than punishing low-income people through public policy forbidding government-provided insurance programs from providing abortion care like the U.S. does, countries that have criteria for public funding of of abortion largely prioritize the economically disadvantaged.

In countries with low-income averages and less available government resources, researchers found an understanding of why public abortion funding is so important. Ethiopia, Cambodia, and North Korea, for example, all provide full funding for both abortion and maternity care. Areas where laws are becoming or have recently become liberal, there is a trend toward public funding.

“In order for safe abortion to be truly accessible, there must be a permissive law, high-quality services must be accessible, and women must be able to obtain care regardless of their ability to pay,” the study concluded. “In countries without public funding for abortion, cost of services may be an important barrier to access for low-income women. Advocacy is necessary to address those outliers and ensure that future changes in abortion law include provisions to guarantee access for low-income women. As the global movement toward universal health coverage progresses, it is critical that comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion care, be included as essential services.”

When asked why we’re such an outlier, Dr. Daniel Grossman, OBGYN, director of ANSIRH, senior advisor at Ibis, and the lead author of the Ibis/ANSIRH study, referenced the Hyde Amendment — a ban on funding for abortion care that affects anyone with a federal insurance plan (e.g. Medicaid, State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), Indian Health Service). Hyde, which turns 40 this fall, is not a law; it is an amendment attached annually to the federal budget through the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (LHHS) appropriations legislation. This public funding ban has historically had support from both sides of the aisle, including President Obama, who has renewed it each time he’s signed a federal budget, specifically included coverage bans in the Affordable Care Act, and remains so uncomfortable with the word abortion that it’s absent from the White House statement on the recent landmark abortion victory at the Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

Grossman called out the complacency on a policy which has lead to one in four unwanted pregnancies for Medicaid recipients being carried to term against the pregnant person’s will.

“I think that the restrictions on federal funding for abortion care have been around for so long that many people take them for granted,” Grossman told The Frisky. “I hope this study makes people rethink this, since there’s clearly a global consensus in favor of coverage of abortion care in the same way other health care is covered. Ultimately this is an issue of economic justice: women struggling to make ends meet cannot get ahead if they cannot control the number and timing of their children.”

Destiny Lopez, co-director of the All* Above All — a coalition of reproductive rights and justice groups working to end bans on abortion coverage — expanded on Grossman’s economic justice position.

“From a human rights perspective, abortion coverage bans target low-income people, who are disproportionately people of color, thereby denying a fundamental right based on someone’s income, insurance, and/or zip code,” Lopez told The Frisky. “It’s unconscionable.”

As a third generation of American women are being punished under Hyde, a long overdue shift has taken place in the democratic party to end our outlier status. Last summer, Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced federal legislation to end all abortion coverage bans: the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act — or EACH Woman Act, which now has 120 co-sponsors.

With more than one-quarter of the House co-sponsoring the first affirmative right to abortion access at the federal level, the party platform was in need of an update. Both contenders for the democratic presidential nomination came out vocally against Hyde. When Hillary did it back in January, it was the first time a nominee had openly campaigned as unapologetically against bans on public funding for abortion. The official democratic party platform now opposes Hyde and its foreign affairs counterpart, the Helms Amendment. Pro-choice supporters were understandably initially concerned about about tracking when the Clinton campaign selected of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) as VP because of some harmful legislation enacted under his tenure as governor of Virginia. Since joining Congress in 2012, though, he has a perfect rating with NARAL Pro-Choice America and since joining the campaign has reiterated that his position on abortion has evolved like many in his party.
The republican ticket, on the other hand, is a one-two punch of de-evolution.“I hate the concept of abortion,” Trump said in a primary debate. “I am very, very proud to say that I am pro-life.” And his vice-presidential running mate, now former Indiana governor Mike Pence, is the original Mr. Defund Planned Parenthood. Pence has repeatedly proven his anti-choice bona fides, saying this during his tenure in the House of Representatives: “I long for the day that Roe v. Wade is sent to the ash heap of history.”

“In November, voters will have to decide which of the candidates’ for office share their values,” Lopez said. “It’s important that voters know where the candidates stand on all the issues that matter to them.”

Americans finally are making a candidate’s position on abortion an actual priority. Gallup has been tracking how much voters weigh abortion for two decades and over the past seven years it has been gaining momentum. A full 46% now say that abortion is one of many important factors in selecting a candidate.

With Americans caring more about abortion access and politicians finally getting on board, our country is primed to shed its outlier status on public funding.

“When it comes to personal, important decisions about pregnancy and parenting, politicians should never stand between a woman and her decision,” said Lopez. “We need to start talking about abortion coverage with our friends, our families, at the water cooler and bus stop. We need to share information about the Hyde Amendment and other bans on abortion coverage and the harms they cause…We need to all take action and tell our lawmakers that this issue matters to us. And it’s time — past time — to make Hyde history.”