Why we are suing for equal access to abortion

By Andrea Irwin, George A. Hill and Meagan Gallagher

January 21, 2016

We lead three nonprofit, publicly accessible health care providers who provide comprehensive reproductive and sexual health care for men and women across the state. Together, we serve more than 21,500 Mainers per year. More than half of them are low income.

Among the comprehensive pregnancy-related care we provide is abortion. Like the rest of our services, abortion is a safe, legal medical procedure. Unlike the rest of our services, abortion has been singled out by politicians for exclusion from MaineCare coverage. While MaineCare will pay for all pregnancy-related care for women who choose to carry a pregnancy to term, it withholds coverage from eligible women who decide to have an abortion.

That means MaineCare-eligible women who decide abortion is the best thing for them and their families must pay for the procedure out of pocket. As providers, we know firsthand that one of the greatest challenges for women seeking care is financial.

The women impacted by this policy are, by definition, low-income. For many of them, even a few hundred dollars can be a difficult barrier to having an abortion. Add to that the cost of missed work and travel to one of our health centers — sometimes as far as 200 miles each way — and the cost can be insurmountable. Every single day we hear from women who can’t afford to pay for abortion care and related costs.

We try hard to help these women find the money they need, but it is often a struggle.

Some women must make heart-wrenching decisions about giving up daily essential costs such as food, rent or heat in order to save enough to have an abortion. The impact can be devastating for entire families. In fact, the majority of women who have abortions already have a child at home. No mother should have to choose between providing for her family and getting the medical care she needs.

Even when women can piece the money together, it often takes a long time to do so — and delaying needed medical care is never a good idea.

Other women still can’t meet the cost. Because they cannot afford to have an abortion, they are forced instead to carry the pregnancy to term. We know women in these circumstances have a harder time raising their families out of poverty.

We no longer can abide by a state policy that coerces women into carrying pregnancies to term. It’s time to stop using our Medicaid program to make it harder for women to make decisions for themselves.

That is why in November we joined the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine in filing a lawsuit to fix this problem. We argue that the state may not interfere with a woman’s fundamental right to decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy, nor discriminate against women who decide to have an abortion.

When Roe v. Wade became the law of the land on Jan. 22, 1973 — 43 years ago — it guaranteed the constitutional right to have an abortion. Since when are we a country where the Constitution only applies to those who can pay for their rights? It is no longer enough that abortion is technically legal. We must demand that all women who decide abortion is best for them and their families have meaningful access to it.


This Opinion piece originally ran in the Bangor Daily News.

Andrea Irwin is executive director of Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center in Bangor. George A. Hill is president and CEO of Maine Family Planning. Meagan Gallagher is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.