During Women’s History Month, our country recognizes the remarkable achievements of American women. Here in Maine, we’re proud of the accomplishments of so many women in our state, and this year we even celebrate our first woman governor. Despite incredible gains, though, we are lagging when it comes to policies that improve women’s lives, especially when it comes to reproductive health, rights and justice. Deciding when and whether to become pregnant and parent is central to women’s equality.

We don’t have to imagine what it looks like when abortion is pushed out of reach. I work at Mabel Wadsworth Center, an independent abortion clinic in Bangor. Years ago, anti-abortion politicians banned abortion coverage under MaineCare, the state’s public insurance program. Every day, at our clinic, we see the impact of denying abortion coverage.

Nearly 7 in 10 of our abortion patients receive partial or full help from an abortion fund, a staggering number that has increased in recent years along with our region’s dramatic increase in poverty. As a result, people enrolled in MaineCare must come up with their own funds to cover an abortion. What’s more, many also incur expenses because of travel, child care and lost wages from missing work.

Take Nicole, for example, a 20-year-old single mother with MaineCare. After much consideration, Nicole had decided to end her pregnancy, and I will never forget the agony in her voice when she learned MaineCare wouldn’t cover the costs. She was shocked, especially since MaineCare paid the full cost of her prenatal care at our clinic during her first pregnancy, when she gave birth to her son. Nicole works two low-wage jobs and has few resources. Unfortunately, Nicole’s experience is not unique, and we talk to women every day who face these obstacles.

Nationwide, abortion coverage bans affect more than half of reproductive-age women enrolled in Medicaid. While abortion has been legal in the U.S. since Roe v. Wade, abortion care remains effectively out of reach for too many people because of a lack of abortion insurance coverage.

Restricting Medicaid coverage of abortion forces one in four poor women seeking abortion to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. And women who are denied abortion care are more likely to fall into poverty. Such bans disproportionately affect people of color. For example, 51 percent of reproductive-age women enrolled in Medicaid and subject to abortion coverage restrictions are women of color.

We’ve been fighting in the courts in Maine for years to make sure people who qualify for Medicaid can get an abortion if they need one. We also endorse L.D. 820, a bill introduced by Rep. Joyce “Jay“ McCreight with strong support from Gov. Mills and Speaker Sara Gideon that would require public and private insurance to cover abortion if the plan covers prenatal care.

Additionally, last week we celebrated the introduction of the EACH Woman Act in Congress, which will ensure coverage for abortion across the country. The EACH Woman Act, groundbreaking legislation to reverse decades of discrimination, will ensure each of us has abortion coverage, however much money we make, wherever we live or however we get our health insurance.

We were able to connect Nicole with financial aid so she could get the care she needed, but not everyone is so fortunate. However we feel about abortion, no one should be denied an abortion because they are poor. If someone has decided to end their pregnancy, we all want them to have an experience that is safe, supported and dignified – without stigma or shame. The best way to ensure this happens is to eliminate the bans on coverage.

Having access to the full range of reproductive health options, including abortion care, is vital to ensuring women continue to make strides and affect U.S. history. I hope that when we observe Women’s History Month next year, we will be celebrating a historic breakthrough in women’s health and reproductive justice in Maine and across the nation when we end these discriminatory bans on abortion care.

Andrea L. Irwin is executive director of Mabel Wadsworth Center, an independent nonprofit providing sexual and reproductive health services in Bangor.


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