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Virginia Legislators Want to Force Poor Women to Carry Severely Disabled Fetuses to Term Against Their Will

Robin Marty

If you want to avoid giving birth to a severely disabled fetus, you'd better hope you have money to pay for an abortion.

Poor women already face great disparities when it comes to accessing any health care, much less reproductive health care. Now, with a new bill being introduced by a Virginia state legislator, they will have to decide whether to desperately find money to access an abortion, or whether to risk their own health by carrying to term and giving birth to a fetus that a doctor has already stated will have little to no meaningful life outside the womb.

Via Laura Bassett at Huffington Post:

State Sen. Thomas A. Garrett (R-Lynchburg) has introduced a bill that would prevent Medicaid from subsidizing abortion services for low-income women in cases “in which a physician certifies … that the fetus would be born with a gross and totally incapacitating physical deformity or mental deficiency.” Women who currently receive Medicaid in Virginia have abortion coverage in cases of rape, incest, severe fetal abnormalities, or when the life of the mother is in danger.

Other anti-choice proposals being offered, such as insurance bans on abortion and contraception, or a bill to ban non-existent “sex or race selection” abortion, are disturbing on their own. Yet it’s the push to make women who use Medicaid into continuing medically-futile pregnancies or pregnancies that will result in a child with severe fetal anomalies that is the most disturbing.

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Besides placing women at greater physical risk, the state would also be forcing her to spend overwhelming amounts of resources on a severely disabled baby for as long as it holds on to life, resources that are no doubt already scarce in the first place even if she has no other children and even more so if she is already a mother. Being pregnant and caring for other family members in the best of circumstances is a challenge. Being pregnant, poor, and possibly without another adult partner is even more difficult. There is no money to get a sitter, to rest, to take time off of work to care for a child or to rest if there are pregnancy complications.

Add to an already struggling family the additional severely disabled child to care for, which will have physical, emotional, and financial needs far beyond that of a normal newborn, and you have now created a completely unsustainable family situation. Who will stay at the hospital with the new baby and attend to its medical needs when there are other children at home to care for? How can a parent work? What provider or family member will care for a child with extremely expensive, intensive medical issues? How is a woman ever expected to be able to remove herself or her family from poverty with these additional burdens, and what does she do when the government continues to strip away all of the social supports under the guise of budget reductions?

There is no circumstance in which this does not greatly increase the obstacles placed on financially challenged women and their families. Instead, it’s simply an ideological exercise to force the one group of women who cannot say no into giving birth simply because anti-choice politicians want them to. Will the people of Virginia stand by and let that happen?

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