After six hours of public hearing testimony, five votes in the House, three votes in the Senate, and one governor's signature, a bill requiring public and private insurance companies that cover prenatal care to cover abortion is law. This is the second piece of legislation approved in Maine to protect and expand access to abortion. The first, Speaker Sara Gideon’s bill allowing advanced practice clinicians to provide abortion care, became law earlier this week.
“As states like Alabama pass bans outlawing abortion even in cases of rape and incest, Maine is protecting women’s rights and freedoms,” said Nicole Clegg, Vice President of Public Policy for the Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund. “This is the second piece of legislation Maine has passed this month that removes significant barriers to accessing abortion. A right isn’t a right if you can’t access it which is why ensuring abortion is accessible and affordable no matter where you live, how much money you make, or what kind of insurance you have is critical for all women of Maine.”
LD 820 is a state solution to the 1976 federal Hyde Amendment denying federal Medicaid coverage of abortion except in extreme circumstances of rape, incest, and life endangerment. The motives of this restriction were clear: make it as difficult as possible for poor women, especially women of color, to make their own decisions about their pregnancies.
Prior to LD 820, MaineCare denied coverage for poor women even when it was medically necessary to protect her health or when the pregnancy was not viable. By contrast, 15 states already use their state healthcare resources to ensure comprehensive coverage of abortion for people with Medicaid insurance.
The Hyde Amendment falls particularly hard on women of color, who are disproportionately likely to be insured by the Medicaid program because of social and economic inequality linked to racism and discrimination.
With 3 in 4 people seeking abortion care earning less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Level, abortion is increasingly concentrated among poor women. For people facing structural barriers to health care, like people with low incomes, people of color, people living in rural areas, and people with disabilities, the legal right to an abortion means little when you can’t access or afford the care you need. The impact of these barriers is oppressive:
Poorer women can be forced to delay their abortion procedure for as long as two to three weeks while they raise money, with the costs and risks of the procedure increasing the longer they are delayed.
One in four Medicaid-qualified women who seek an abortion is forced to carry her pregnancy to term because of cost and women forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term are more likely to fall into poverty within a year.
A recent poll confirms that Mainers are overwhelmingly supportive of abortion rights. A majority of voters say that if a woman has decided to have an abortion the experience should be supportive (83%), affordable (79%), available in her community (79%), without added burdens (76%), and covered by her insurance (70%). More than three in four Mainers (76%) believe women should be able to make their own medical decisions about abortion without politicians and insurance companies denying care.
LD 820 will take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns; insurance plans issued or renewed on or after January 1, 2020, that cover prenatal care must cover abortion.