Medicaid and abortion

Why we must step in where supposedly comprehensive health services leave off.

Published May 10, 2006 4:59PM (EDT)

Broadsheet reported last month that the National Network of Abortion Funds had launched the National Reproductive Justice Fund in response to pending abortion bans in South Dakota and elsewhere. The fund will help low-income women who need to travel out of state for an abortion. "Our new national fund will ensure that women have the resources and help they need to obtain abortions -- no matter what the South Dakota legislature does," said NNAF executive director Stephanie Poggi.

As it turns out, though, the situation with Medicaid's coverage of abortion services -- or lack thereof -- is a bit more complicated than we stated in that post. Here are some clarifying details from the NNAF's communications director, Sarah Horsley:

All states are legally supposed to cover abortion (at least) in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia cover it only in these cases. South Dakota defies even this federal requirement, covering it only in cases of danger to the mother's life. "In many states, even in cases where Medicaid is legally supposed to cover abortion, women face bureaucratic and other barriers," adds Horsley.

Still, it's not all bad. Seventeen states offer coverage for almost all abortions. Although many of these states technically use the [only when] "medically necessary" language that Broadsheet mentioned, the majority of those states in fact do cover abortion in the majority of cases.

But not all good, either. Before the Hyde Amendment banning the use of Medicaid for abortion -- to which Congress has made exceptions over the years, as shown above -- Medicaid covered about one-third of abortions nationwide. Now, in states with full coverage, Medicaid still covers almost one-third of abortions. In states with coverage only in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment, Medicaid covers less than 1 percent.

For still more information about state-level Medicaid coverage, check with our friends at Guttmacher. (Scroll down and click on "State Funding of Abortion Under Medicaid.")

Thanks, Sarah, for the clarification, and thanks, NNAF, for the immediate, tangible difference you make.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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