Recently, during the National Right to Life Convention in New Orleans, an annual anti-abortion conference, Gov. Bobby Jindal touted Louisiana as the “most pro-life” state. He flaunted the amount of anti-abortion restrictions that he has signed during his two terms in office, using “religious freedom” to justify taking away a woman’s ability to make her own decisions about pregnancy.
I answer calls for the New Orleans Abortion Fund, a hotline that provides support for women who have decided to have an abortion but cannot afford it. I see firsthand how women are impacted by some of the most detrimental restrictions that stand in the way of a decision to end a pregnancy. My experiences are not just anecdotal; studies show that a woman who wants to get an abortion but is denied is more likely to fall into poverty than one who can get an abortion.
In Louisiana, those enrolled and qualified for Medicaid and those with insurance through the health exchange are denied abortion coverage. Nationally, the “Hyde Amendment” withholds abortion coverage from those who receive their health insurance or care through the federal government.
Politicians in our state spend an outrageous amount of time and resources putting barriers in the way of abortion under the guise of “protecting women.” Louisiana has a 24-hour waiting period between an in-person mandatory counseling session (in which a woman receives information designed to discourage her from having an abortion) and the abortion itself. Yet, studies show that women rarely change their minds because of counseling or during a waiting period and even more rarely regret their decisions. Because there are only five abortion clinics in the state, many women must travel long distances to receive care and, due to the waiting period, often must take time off of work, arrange for child care and find a place to spend the night. The reality is that these restrictions do nothing to make abortion safer or help a woman with her decision — they only make it more costly and difficult to access.
Fighting against anti-abortion legislators and for Louisiana women is a Sisyphean task, so I was overjoyed when earlier this month three congresswomen introduced HR 2972, the EACH Woman Act, with the support of more than 80 congressional co-sponsors and 46 women’s health, rights and justice advocacy organizations under the campaign All* Above All.
The bill would ensure that every woman who receives health care or insurance through the federal government is provided with complete reproductive health care, including abortion care. It also would prohibit politicians from interfering with decisions by private health insurance companies to provide this type of coverage in their health plans.
I know that I am not alone in my support for this bill. According to a national poll, broad swaths of the nation — across age and party lines — agree that the amount of money a woman has should not determine her access to health care and abortion services. The study also found that the value voters place on women being able to make vital, personal decisions outweighs the argument that abortion services should not be funded by taxpayer dollars.
However one may feel about abortion, politicians should not be able to deny a woman health care because she is poor or because of the type of insurance she has. As individuals, it is our moral responsibility to combat the policies that harm members of our communities who are already marginalized. By ensuring full reproductive health access, the EACH Woman Act means every woman is able to make the important personal decisions that enable her to control her own destiny.
Marlo Barrera is intake coordinator for the New Orleans Abortion Fund.