A number of domestic and international reproductive health developments were in the news over the past month. Some of the stories we have been following relate to President Trump’s executive order on international health funding and abortions, a wrongful death lawsuit out of Alabama that could have repercussions for abortion cases in the future, and a recent study on abortion trends in the United States.
An article by Serra Sippel in the New York Times outlines the global health consequences associated with President Trump’s executive order that cuts off U.S. funding to health organizations that provide information or services related to abortion across the world. Although a similar funding restriction was in place during every Republican administration over the past 30 years, this order is more overarching, banning health funding for programs entirely unrelated to reproductive health or family planning. The article shares some devastating outcomes resulting from this global gag rule in the past, such as the halt of a condom distribution program in Lesotho during a period of 25 percent HIV prevalence among women, and the defunding of an awareness program about unsafe abortions in Nepal. Sippel explores two different studies — one from sub-Saharan Africa and one from Ghana — both establishing higher abortions rates in those regions during periods when the rule was previously enforced. The Atlantic also offers a good overview of the global gag rule.
In state news, the American Bar Association and Rewire News both reported a local Alabama case that brings up the questions of fetal personhood and doctor liability in negligence lawsuits. As the ABA writes, the Alabama Supreme Court allowed a patient to pursue a civil wrongful death lawsuit, alleging that her first-trimester miscarriage was the result of negligence on the part of her doctor. Based on suspicions of an ectopic pregnancy, which later turned out to be inaccurate, the patient was given a prescription by her doctor to terminate the pregnancy. Although Alabama law exempts doctors from criminal liability related to fetal death if it was the result of an unintentional mistake, the Alabama Supreme Court appeal allowed a civil legal action against the doctor. The Rewire article explains that, in 2006, the Brody Act in Alabama afforded personhood to all fetuses regardless of gestation in the context of criminal liability cases (while exempting doctors from prosecution), going against the fetal viability standard established in Roe v. Wade. In a concurring opinion in the current case, Tom Parker, one of Alabama’s Supreme Court justices, specifically addressed and rejected that fetal viability threshold, stating that fetuses are human beings regardless of their ability to survive outside of their mother’s womb.
Finally, we’ve been reading about some abortion trends. Christina Cauterucci at Slate reports that, according to a recent study by the Guttmacher Institute, abortion rates in the country were lower in 2014 than during any other year since the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973, dropping to below 1 million in 2013. That trend coincides with a decline in teen birth rates and in unplanned pregnancies across the country. One anti-choice activist attributed the abortions drop to stricter regulations denying women access to reproductive health care, while the study authors believe that the decline is at least partially due to greater access to contraception.
What reproductive rights stories are you reading? Share with us on Twitter at @DCAbortionFund!
By volunteer Maria S.
On January 24, the U.S. House passed H.R. 7 to codify — and expand — the Hyde Amendment and related longstanding restrictions on federal funding for abortion. For the last four decades, the Hyde Amendment and other budget riders like it have created financial hurdles for abortion access for DC Abortion Fund’s Medicaid patients. Our patients who live in the District face an additional hurdle because of Congress’ constant meddling in DC’s budget — and sadly, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.
The Hyde Amendment bans the use of federal money for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the pregnant person’s life is in danger. Some states mitigate the effects of Hyde for their low-income residents by using their own funds to provide abortion access to people enrolled in Medicaid. But almost continuously since 1989, Congress has prohibited the District from using its own locally-raised Medicaid funds to pay for abortions through a rider known as the Dornan Amendment. (The ban was temporarily lifted in 1993, 1994, 2009, and 2010, but otherwise it has been in effect every year since 1989.) H.R. 7 converts these riders, which previously needed to be re-enacted every year, into permanent funding restrictions.
For many politicians and anti-choice advocates, DC residents are just another pawn in an ongoing effort to reverse the constitutional guarantee of abortion rights. It’s an easy “win” for them because the federal government exerts full control over DC’s budget while DC residents have no representation in Congress. Congress could not exert the same control over the residents of any other jurisdiction.
But for DCAF’s patients, this Medicaid ban is not just a move on a political chessboard.
When the Medicaid ban, also known as the Dornan Amendment, was suddenly reinstated in April 2011, DCAF saw “an immediate spike in need within our community,” and that need continues today, as DCAF board member Emily discussed on a recent episode of the Kojo Nnamdi Show.
In Fiscal Year 2016, 72 percent of our DC patients who reported their insurance type said they were insured under DC’s Medicaid program. The DC Medicaid ban stretches DCAF’s budget and forces many of our patients to scramble for funds that wouldn’t be needed if Medicaid covered abortion just like other medical procedures.
A first-trimester abortion can cost between $300 and $950. By comparison, the monthly income limit for an individual to be eligible for DC Medicaid is $2,128 — and that’s the upper limit, the maximum that a person can make and still be eligible for Medicaid. Many people make less than that, and when they can’t use their Medicaid coverage to pay for abortion, they often have to turn to family and friends who may also have a low income, pawn their belongings, consider which bills they can delay, or make other difficult choices.
In spite of all of this, we have a history in DCAF of turning rage into resilience. Our volunteers continue to take calls seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. In an ideal world, the Hyde Amendment — and all of its spinoff restrictions like the Dornan Amendment and H.R. 7 — would be history. We stand with our allies every day to try to make that world. And in the meantime, we keep answering the phone. Always.
By volunteer Deborah S.
Last weekend, more than three million people took part in a historic protest around the world, with over 500,000 participating here in Washington, DC. They gathered to speak up and march for women’s rights. The Women’s March on Washington had many themes, among them: Reproductive Rights = Women’s Rights = Human Rights.
For many, a Donald Trump presidency brings fear that women’s reproductive rights are in serious jeopardy. Indeed, that seems to be the case already this week when Trump signed an executive order to reinstate the “global gag rule,” which prohibits international non-governmental organizations that receive U.S. funding for their health programs from providing abortions, discussing abortion, or advocating for abortion legalization — even if they do so with their own funding.
As the DC Abortion Fund, other pro-choice organizations, and activists ready themselves to continue to fight for reproductive justice, one of the questions raised at the March was how first-time activists can stay involved. One way is to demand action from Congress and the President to protect abortion access. Another way to stay involved is to donate to non-profit organizations like DCAF, or sign up for newsletters from the organizations that you want to support.
Ready to take it a step further? Check out these local opportunities for activism, volunteering, and running for office:
By volunteer Rachel E.
To reproductive rights activists and advocates, Jan. 22, 1973 is the day that changed everything. The Supreme Court announced its decision that the constitutional right to privacy includes a right to abortion. Now, 44 years later, we celebrate Roe v. Wade Day as a historical moment in women’s rights.
Some legislators today are working hard to overturn Roe, and with the potential of incoming conservative Supreme Court justices, we could see the right to choose be slowly taken away. When we celebrate Roe v. Wade Day, we celebrate the clinics, physicians, patients, and advocates who work tirelessly to make sure people have access to the abortion care that is their constitutional right.
This year, Roe v. Wade Day falls the day after another important day for women’s rights: The Women’s March on Washington. Many organizations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia will be holding additional events to rally around the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. We encourage supporters to attend these events. If you can’t make it, join in the conversation by using #7in10forRoe and tweet why you stand with the 70 percent of Americans who support Roe v. Wade.
Jan. 12-Feb. 19: Roe
Get tickets to the world-premiere of Roe at Arena Stage. The play tells the story of the lawyer arguing Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court, the plaintiff looking to terminate her pregnancy, and the polarization in American culture.
Buy tickets here.
Sunday, Jan. 22: Rally for Roe
Join NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland at St. John’s United Methodist Church, where supporters will be celebrating the anniversary and committing to working together to fight the threat to justice in Maryland in the coming year.
Friday, Jan. 27: Roe v. Wade Anniversary Rally and Celebration
The National Organization for Women and NARAL Pro-Choice America will gather at the Supreme Court to show support for the historic ruling.
Tuesday, Mar. 14: The Power of Roe
Mark your calendar for an event with NARAL Pro-Choice America at the Hamilton.
Looking for something fun to do this week? Join us Wednesday, Jan. 18, for an all-ages concert benefiting the DC Abortion Fund!
Three awesome bands — Cigarette, Governess, and Scanners — will be performing a show to raise money and support for DCAF. DCAF gives grants directly to pregnant people in the DC area, as well as those traveling to the area, who cannot afford the full cost of an abortion.
Check out the bands below, and buy tickets here. Can’t make it? You can still donate.
Where: Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW
When: Wednesday, January 18, 8-11:30 p.m.
Who: Cigarette, Governess, and Scanners
Thanks to the Black Cat and all of the performers for what will be a night of great music.
Letter to U.S. State and Federal Legislators,
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today on this most personal issue.
Let me be clear. Only I Know when the time is right for me to bring a new life into this world. Only I Know when my partner and I want to keep our family at four. Only I Know that I don’t have the resources to raise a child. Only I Know that raising a child by myself is not an option. Only I Know that bearing a child and giving it up for adoption is not an option. Only I Know that I’m working two jobs just to support myself. Only I Know when my health is poor and my stamina weak. Only I Know what I need to do to care for my existing children. Only I Know that my contraception failed. Only I Know that I am too young and immature to have a baby. Only I Know that I have no job and lots of debt. Only I Know what I need to do to finish school and find meaningful work. Only I Know that my relationship is new and waiting is best. Only I Know that I have a plan for my life and it doesn’t include an unplanned pregnancy. Only I Know that my children are nearly grown and my childbearing years are behind me. Only I Know that I’ve become pregnant from a sexual assault. Only I Know when the time is right for me to bring a new life into this world.
Only I Know these things. You don’t Know.
It’s that simple.
Thank you for your attention and for backing-the-hell-off this most personal issue.
By volunteer Lynda D.
I’m writing this letter with all the appreciation humanly possible. I was in an abusive relationship for 9 years. I have 2 children by my abuser. I finally got the strength to leave him and move on with my children. However, he found me. The child I aborted was a result of my ex finding me, beating me, and raping me. It was only once I finally found a way to move from Mississippi to Richmond that I discovered I was pregnant. Your fund helped me to not have even more ties to my abuser but to also have the possibility to work and provide for my children.
I came to Virginia with a pregnancy, 2 children and no money. Your fund gave me an opportunity to have a fresh start and a chance to provide for my children financially. I owe more gratitude than this letter can express but please know the work of the fund and its donors does not go unnoticed and is so genuinely appreciated.
Thanks again for my chance at a fresh start with my children. I hope to pay it forward in the way your fund and your donors do daily. Thank you again for the constant contact through this difficult, but necessary choice.
—A DCAF caller
Since 1995, people have called the DC Abortion Fund for one simple, heartbreaking reason: They cannot afford the full cost of their abortion care. This constitutionally guaranteed healthcare service is tragically out of reach for many people because of political and economic barriers — barriers that disproportionately affect lower-income people and people of color.
By supporting DCAF, you empower people to take control of their lives and make the best decisions for themselves and their families. You are truly changing lives and creating brighter futures.
A DCAF grant allows callers to escape domestic violence. It enables them to continue to feed and support themselves and their families. It gives them the opportunity to continue their education. It helps them avoid slipping into poverty and, potentially, homelessness. It offers the chance to seek the support and resources they need to heal after a sexual assault. It gives them the ability to wait until they are ready and able to be a parent.
Every caller is different and has their own unique story. But one thing remains the same. They all deserve dignity and trust and respect. And that’s what your support provides.
This holiday season, give the gift of hope. Make reproductive choice a reality for everyone — regardless of income.