When it comes to the most important decisions in life, such as whether to become a parent, it is critical that a woman be able to consider all the options available to her, no matter her income or insurance. Sadly, this basic respect for women’s personal decision making is denied to many Michiganders.
One of the many laws our state politicians have enacted to push abortion out of reach even garnered national attention when it took effect two years ago — with reporters from MSNBC to Newsweek giving us the spotlight; Michigan’s restriction has been called the “rape insurance” law because the measure bars private health insurers from offering any abortion coverage unless it is sold as a separate, stand-alone insurance policy.
But Michigan lawmakers aren’t the only legislators that have stooped so low to interfere in women’s decision making. Sept. 30 will mark 40 years of politicians in Congress using the Hyde Amendment to limit a woman’s ability to access safe, legal abortion. This policy, which Congress has approved annually, is a federal ban that denies coverage of abortion to women insured through Medicaid.
Since then, the Hyde Amendment has been expanded to deny coverage to federal employees and their dependents, military service members, Native Americans, Peace Corps volunteers, immigrants and residents of Washington, D.C. These related bans fall hardest on women struggling to make ends meet, which can have far-reaching consequences. A woman who makes the decision to seek abortion but is denied is more likely to fall into poverty than a woman who can obtain this care. And, further eroding a woman’s autonomy, Medicaid bans have been shown to force one in four women seeking abortion to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.
This begs the question: since abortion is legal in this country, why are some women who seek abortion discriminated against simply because of their economic status or their source of insurance?
As Jewish women who believe that each of us is of equal worth, regardless of income, race, gender or other factors, we find this discrimination unconscionable. We all deserve the freedom to make personal decisions based on our own religious or moral beliefs and circumstances, including critical decisions about our bodies, health and family.
However we feel about abortion, it is unjust for politicians to enshrine one religious view about abortion into law in order to restrict access to care. Doing so not only risks a woman’s health and economic security, but denies her religious liberty, interfering in her ability to make her own faith-informed decisions.
And we are not alone in this view. Polls have shown that a majority of voters across the United States disagree with politicians denying women health coverage just because they are poor.
Thankfully, current legislation in Congress would restore this coverage. The Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act, HR 2972, would end bans on abortion coverage, lifting the federal Hyde Amendment. It would also bar the kind of political interference in the private health insurance market that we have now notoriously experienced in Michigan.
We must remain vigilant in opposing legislation designed to chip away at the right to a safe, legal abortion, whether proposed by state lawmakers or those in Congress. But we must also take proactive steps to stop politicians from interfering with a woman’s most important personal decisions. Repealing Hyde with the EACH Woman Act will do just that, ensuring the basic respect that each of us deserves.
Cathy Cantor and Irma Glaser are Michigan State Policy Advocates with the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) and members of the NCJW Greater Detroit Section. The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) is a grassroots organization of volunteers and advocates who turn progressive ideals into action. Inspired by Jewish values, NCJW strives for social justice by improving the quality of life for women, children and families and by safeguarding individual rights and freedoms.