In Op-Ed, Maine Abortion Providers Advocate for Abortion Access for Low-Income Women

January 22, 2016 — In an opinion piece for the Bangor Daily News, Andrea Irwin, executive director of Mabel Wadsworth Women's Health Center; George Hill, president and CEO of Maine Family Planning; and Meagan Gallagher, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, call on the state's Medicaid program to stop excluding abortion coverage.

The authors note that they "serve more than 21,500 Mainers per year," of whom "[m]ore than half ... are low-income." They write, "Among the comprehensive pregnancy-related care we provide is abortion," but, "[u]nlike the rest of our services, abortion has been singled out by politicians for exclusion from MaineCare coverage." They explain, "While MaineCare will pay for all pregnancy-related care for women who choose to carry a pregnancy to term, it withholds coverage from eligible women who decide to have an abortion."

As a result, "MaineCare-eligible women who decide abortion is the best thing for them and their families must pay for the procedure out of pocket," the authors write. "The women impacted by this policy are, by definition, low-income," the authors note, adding, "For many of them, even a few hundred dollars can be a difficult barrier to having an abortion. Add to that the cost of missed work and travel to one of our health centers -- sometimes as far as 200 miles each way -- and the cost can be insurmountable."

They write, "Every single day we hear from women who can’t afford to pay for abortion care and related costs." According to the authors, "Some women must make heart-wrenching decisions about giving up daily essential costs such as food, rent or heat in order to save enough to have an abortion," and sometimes women must delay care to "piece the money together." Meanwhile, other women who cannot afford an abortion "are forced instead to carry the pregnancy to term" and can "have a harder time raising their families out of poverty," the authors write.

"We no longer can abide by a state policy that coerces women into carrying pregnancies to term," the authors continue, adding, "It's time to stop using our Medicaid program to make it harder for women to make decisions for themselves." They explain, "That is why in November we joined the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine in filing a lawsuit to fix this problem," noting, "We argue that the state may not interfere with a woman's fundamental right to decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy; nor discriminate against women who decide to have an abortion."

They conclude by referring to Roe v. Wade, which "guaranteed the constitutional right to have an abortion," asking, "Since when are we a country where the Constitution only applies to those who can pay for their rights? It is no longer enough that abortion is technically legal. We must demand that all women who decide abortion is best for them and their families have meaningful access to it" (Irwin et al., Bangor Daily News, 1/21).