Commentary Abortion

New Research on Hyde in Louisiana Reaffirms the Cost of Abortion Restrictions

Amy Irvin & Lakeesha Harris

Anti-choice legislation in Louisiana ignores research illustrating the harm abortion restrictions have on people seeking care.

We’ve known for a long time that the Hyde Amendment—the ban on using federal funds like Medicaid to cover abortion in most cases—disproportionately harms people living in poverty, creating major income-based disparities in abortion access. But as advocates working to protect and expand access to abortion care in Louisiana—one of 34 states that generally follow the federal standards in barring public funding of most abortions—we were taken aback by new findings about the disastrous effect these restrictions have in our state.

The research revealed that thousands of women in Louisiana covered under Medicaid give birth each year instead of having an abortion because their insurance does not cover the procedure. In other words, evidence shows that restrictions on public insurance coverage of abortion prevent people from obtaining wanted care, thus forcing them to give birth. The researchers at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), a program at the University of California, San Francisco published their findings in BMC Women’s Health last month.

This is another indicator that laws in Louisiana are eliminating reproductive autonomy. It comes on the heels of the extreme bill signed last month by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), outlawing abortion after six weeks’ gestation.

In some ways, the wave of anti-abortion measures across the country is business as usual, targeting doctors and providers under the guise of supporting and protecting “women’s health.” But this research and the backdoor abortion bans passed recently in the South and Midwest have exposed the truth behind decades of anti-abortion rhetoric and laws. The goals of the highly mobilized anti-abortion movement are not only to shame and bully people for making decisions about their own bodies, but also to force pregnancy by creating devastating barriers for those living in poverty, making an often necessary procedure unattainable due to income and access.

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Despite their claims, we must remember that Louisiana policymakers and anti-abortion activists aren’t acting in the interests of pregnant people or their families. If they were, they would be focused on addressing maternal mortality rates that are on the rise, increasing access to sex education and contraception to prevent unintended pregnancy, and supporting parents with paid family medical leave and affordable child care.

For years, the constitutional right to an abortion has been pushed out of reach for poor people, people of color, and people living in rural areas. Louisiana has only three remaining abortion clinics, thanks to the more than 1,000 medically unnecessary requirements in its clinic licensing law. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 63 percent of women in the state ages 15-44 lived in a parish without an abortion clinic in 2014, leaving significant logistical and financial barriers to care. 

Our organizations, the New Orleans Abortion Fund and Women With A Vision, work with Louisianans who are navigating these barriers every day. We see students, young people, people of color, working parents, and people of faith affected by these unconstitutional policies. These are the people research confirms are harmed by Louisiana’s unnecessary restrictions on abortion and its lack of progressive policies to advance health-care access.

Our state officials have become puppets, doing the dirty work behind the anti-abortion federal agenda of President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. In his most recent State of the Union address, the president used hyperbole about later abortions to ignite anti-abortion fervor in state legislatures across the country. He sounded the alarm, calling on anti-abortion leadership to do away with access to abortion care by any means necessary—even if that agenda means going against the 71 percent of voters, including 52 percent of Republican voterswho agree Roe should stay in place.

In an answer to that call, Louisiana lawmakers passed six anti-choice bills this session—including a ballot initiative to amend the state’s constitution—all of which will either severely restrict or completely eliminate access to comprehensive health care and bodily autonomy in Louisiana.

These bills ignore the growing body of research illustrating the harm that abortion restrictions have on people seeking care. A perfect example is the ban on abortion at six weeks’ gestation, before many people know they are pregnant—a restriction that will ultimately result in forced pregnancy.  This has negative socioeconomic and mental health outcomes for women, as found by ANSIRH’s Turnaway Study. That’s especially true for the nearly two-thirds of people having abortions who already have children. 

For all their feigned concern about women and babies, anti-abortion extremists have no qualms about taking away the rights of mothers and blocking aid for families living in poverty.

As Louisianans who work directly in the communities that are most affected by misogynistic abortion bans and other restrictions on bodily autonomy, we stand in solidarity with states in the South and Midwest that are fighting the same fight. We must force our lawmakers to prioritize what the research is showing us, not their religious ideals. 

We’re not backing down until our voices are heard and the values of Louisianians are upheld by our elected officials.  

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