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Legislative Restrictions on Access to Abortion


A woman’s access to abortion shouldn’t depend on her ZIP code, her health insurance or how much is in her bank account.

We trust women to make the best decisions about their health care for their own lives.

Politicians should too. But far too many anti-choice extremists at all levels of government continue to propose laws that restrict a woman’s ability to access safe and legal abortion.

Anti-choice legislators at the state and national levels have passed laws that limit a woman’s access to abortion care by banning federal and state funding for the procedure in most cases, prohibiting insurance coverage for abortion care, and placing unnecessary, harmful restrictions on health-care clinics.

A woman’s access to abortion shouldn’t depend on her ZIP code, her health insurance or how much is in her bank account. Every woman should have the autonomy to make decisions about her body and her life.

Bans on Private Health Insurance Coverage

Anti-choice politicians have enacted laws that prohibit insurers from including abortion coverage in their health plans, preventing many women from using health insurance to cover abortion care. Without insurance coverage, women are forced to bear the cost entirely on their own, despite having paid for health insurance—and for low-income women, this may put the procedure financially out of reach.

Such state laws may:

  • Prohibit abortion coverage in the state’s entire private insurance market.
  • Prohibit abortion coverage in insurance plans that participate in the health-care exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act.
  • Prohibit abortion coverage for public employees in the state.

The Hyde Amendment

The Hyde amendment (and related restrictions) is a discriminatory federal policy that restricts access to abortion for women who receive their health care through the government. This far-reaching policy affects many programs, resulting in millions of women being denied insurance coverage for abortion care. They include:

  • Women enrolled in Medicaid and Medicare
  • Native American women
  • U.S. servicewomen and veterans
  • Peace Corps volunteers
  • Federal employees
  • Women who live in Washington, D.C.
  • Women in immigration detention facilities and prisons

As Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote, the Hyde amendment was “designed to deprive poor and minority women of the constitutional right to choose abortion.” And that’s exactly what this policy does.

By forcing low-income women to carry unintended pregnancies to term or spend a large portion of their income to pay for abortion care, Congress creates more barriers to women lifting themselves out of poverty. Women without abortion coverage are forced to use funds they would spend on necessities such as food and rent to pay for an abortion. In many cases, finding the money to pay for the abortion results in a delay in care, which means the procedure becomes even more expensive.

The Helms Amendment

Enacted in 1973, the Helms amendment has prevented U.S. foreign aid from helping some of the world’s poorest women access abortion care. Because the language of the policy has been wrongly interpreted and implemented over the years, the Helms amendment has resulted in a near-total ban on U.S. assistance to some of the world’s poorest women who need abortion care, even when a woman’s life is in danger or she is a survivor of rape or incest.

The U.S. government can and should issue guidance to U.S.-funded health centers overseas clarifying that these exceptions—when consistent with local law—are permissible, and that U.S. funds may pay for abortion care in these cases. While this would fall far short of a full repeal, it would be a step in the right direction.

Abortion Bans Throughout Pregnancy

Anti-choice politicians in many states have used a variety of tactics to enact abortion bans earlier and earlier in pregnancy. The most common type of abortion ban in recent years is a ban on abortion after 20 weeks. These laws interfere with a woman’s ability to make the decision that is best for herself and her family, and often come into play under heartbreaking circumstances surrounding a pregnancy or when a woman’s health is at risk. These bans also criminalize doctors for the care they provide.

A few states have gone even further, passing laws to ban abortion as early as six weeks—before many women even realize they’re pregnant. These laws are effectively outright bans on abortion.

 

Abortion Procedure Bans

In 2003, President George W. Bush signed into law the Federal Abortion Ban. The first federal law to criminalize a safe medical procedure, this ban means doctors may not be able to use the abortion procedure they believe is best for a patient. The ban has no exception to protect a woman’s health and is widely opposed by leading medical groups. Several states have passed similar bans—a redundant and overtly political move.

“Personhood” Measures

“Personhood” measures seek to outlaw abortion by redefining the term “person” to include a fertilized egg or embryo—with the intent of outlawing abortion.

In addition, “personhood” measures often sweep in bans on stem cell research and in vitro fertilization, as well as many common forms of birth control. Ultimately, these measures have no exceptions to protect a woman’s life or health, and could even criminalize a woman for having an abortion.

Voters have repeatedly rejected “personhood” ballot initiatives as too extreme and harmful to women and their health. However, anti-choice groups and politicians continue to introduce them in the hopes of mounting a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade.

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Help stop attacks on abortion access.

Fact Sheets


Abortion Bans at 20 Weeks: A Dangerous Restriction for Women
Abortion Bans Endanger Women’s Health
Abortion-Coverage Ban on the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program
Abortion Coverage for Women in the Military
Attacks on Private Insurance Coverage of Abortion Care
More Reports & Fact Sheets

Current State Laws: 20 Week Abortion Bans


These states ban abortion after 20 or fewer weeks of pregnancy without an adequate health exception.

I know how important access is for women of color — I had an abortion when I was 19, and it was one of the best decisions of my life.

Renee Bracey Sherman
/
Board Member
Read more

Everyone should be able to decide if, when, how, and with whom they start or grow a family.

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