Abortion is Basic Health Care

Jan 24, 2020
Phyllida Burlingame

Page Media

abortion is a right

Once again, the Trump administration is abusing its power to attack access to reproductive health care. It has already gone after insurance coverage for contraception and federal funding for family planning and tried to allow health care institutions and providers to deny patients information and treatment based on personal religious or moral beliefs.

Now the administration has set its sights directly on California’s requirement that insurance companies treat abortion no differently than other pregnancy-related care. The Department of Health and Human Services is threatening to withhold critical federal funding, jeopardizing the health and safety of millions of Californians, if the state doesn’t bend to the Trump administration’s blatant political agenda and drop this requirement.

California’s policy, based on decades of California law, embodies three important concepts that have all but disappeared with the erosion of abortion rights:

Abortion is basic health care.
A pregnant person has two medical options: childbirth or abortion. Abortion is a safe medical procedure—indeed, safer than childbirth at every stage of gestation. The risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion. One in four women will have an abortion by age 45.[1]   

Abortion is a constitutionally protected personal decision. 
In California, our Constitution and our Reproductive Privacy Act guarantee that each of us has the right to decide about our own pregnancy. It’s not the boss’s business, it’s not the insurance company’s business, and it’s not the government’s business. Abortion and prenatal care must be treated equally.

Restricting abortion coverage is discrimination. 
Control over reproduction is fundamental to a person’s ability to participate in social, economic and political life. Discriminatory policies (covering all prenatal care but only certain abortions) reinforce the archaic message that a cisgender woman’s proper role is motherhood—and, even then, on the state’s terms, not hers.

California’s abortion coverage requirement conveys simple truths that have become obscured in the political effort to stigmatize abortion: childbearing is a personal decision, abortion is basic health care, and control of reproduction is critical to autonomy.

HHS, an agency that is supposed to protect patients’ rights, should respect and support these truths instead of acting as a political weapon for abortion opponents. In California, we will continue fighting to expand, not restrict, access to abortion and other reproductive health care.

Phyllida Burlingame is the Reproductive Justice and Gender Equity Director at the ACLU of Northern California

[1] This research uses the term “women,” which we replicate here. Transgender men and nonbinary individuals similarly need access to insurance coverage for abortion, and they face particular barriers in accessing abortion care.