Virginia Lawmakers Agree: Banning Insurers From Covering Abortion Hurts Low-Income Women

This week, Virginia became the 21st state to restrict coverage for abortion services in the health insurance marketplaces set up under Obamacare. Over the past several years, that’s become an increasingly common tactic to restrict abortion access, as anti-choice lawmakers rush to prevent insurers from being able to cover the cost of the legal medical procedure.

Even though the measure banning abortion coverage — which was an amendment that Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) tacked onto a broader General Assembly bill — ultimately passed the legislature, it still sparked a debate that cut across party lines. Republican and Democratic lawmakers both suggested that preventing women from using their insurance coverage to pay for abortion services is ultimately a class issue, a point confirmed by women’s health advocates:

But members of both parties agree that the measure’s biggest impact will likely fall along class lines, landing hardest on some of the people the federal health-care overhaul was designed to help: working women who barely get by on their incomes.

“Those people that can afford insurance outside of the exchanges will be able to buy whatever they want. People that can’t afford to buy outside of the exchange will have to buy policies that don’t cover these procedures,” said Sen. John C. Watkins (R-Powhatan), who sponsored the bill but opposed the amendment by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R). “It just sets up a class situation, in my mind.” […]

Cianti Stewart-Reid, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, said that the only real effect of the amendment would be to limit access for women who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to purchase their insurance on the private market.

“What it means is that women — by and large low-income but working women in Virginia — won’t have access to abortion,” Stewart-Reid said.

Abortion access is, of course, an incredibly important class issue. Of all the women who have abortions in the United States, 42 percent fall below the federal poverty line — partly because low-income women often still struggle to access affordable and reliable contraception. And when women are denied the opportunity to have a legal abortion, that greatly increases their risk of falling into poverty.


And the restrictions that state lawmakers pile on top of women seeking to have an abortion often hit low-income women the hardest. For example, 24-hour waiting periods — which force women to make multiple trips to a clinic — ultimately mean women are paying the costs for the additional transportation, the additional childcare, and the additional lost income during the time off of work. On top of the hundreds of dollars that an abortion procedure can cost out-of-pocket, that quickly adds up to be too much for poor women who are already struggling to pay the bills.

Virginia lawmakers were correct to identify the class dynamics exacerbated by unnecessary restrictions on abortion coverage. Unfortunately for the women in the state, however, their anti-abortion governor is expected to sign the legislation into law.