Republicans have long stirred up their base by arguing against taxpayer funded abortion. At this year’s March for Life, Mike Pence even promised to end taxpayer funded abortion. Taxpayer money doesn’t fund abortions. It hasn’t in decades. But research suggests that making abortion accessible with taxpayer funded abortions could save money. It would also save lives.
Taxpayer Funded Abortion: Dispelling a Myth
Taxpayer funded abortion has been banned since the Hyde Amendment passed in 1976. The Amendment prohibits federal funds from covering abortion, even for low-income women. The only exception to this rule is when the woman’s life is in danger, or when the pregnancy results from incest or rape. So an ectopic pregnancy–which is always non-viable, and which can be fatal to the woman–would be covered. A pregnancy that endangered a woman’s mental health, or put her at risk of homicide by an abusive partner would not.
The restrictions don’t end there. Congress continues to adopt progressively more restrictive regulations. For example, the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 allows HMOs who work with Medicaid recipients to refuse services to which the HMO objects on religious or moral grounds. This means that women who can’t afford to pay for their abortions out of pocket may be denied an abortion even when they have insurance. In this regard, anti-abortion restrictions go much further than restricting taxpayer funded abortion. They also allow private insurers and other parties to control what a woman does with her body.
President Trump has further constrained women’s access to abortion by ensuring American Republicans have control even over women in other countries. One of his first official acts was to reinstate the so-called Global Gag Rule. The rule blocks funding to organizations that provide abortion services, that counsel women seeking abortions, or that promote abortion rights. The rule doesn’t just prevent American funds from covering abortions. It aggressively controls what funding recipients can do with their own money.
Taxpayer Funded Abortions at the State Level
The Hyde Amendment only addresses federal funds, but states have enacted further restrictions on abortion funding. Thirty-two states offer no funding for abortion, except in the case of rape, incest, or danger to the woman’s life. Poor women seeking abortions in these states have no taxpayer funded options. They must pay for an abortion themselves, or face the lifelong consequences of an unintended pregnancy–including the exorbitant costs of giving birth.
Why Taxpayer Funded Abortion is Actually a Good Thing
The debate surrounding taxpayer funded abortion has shifted the terms of the debate so far that even Democrats find themselves supporting the Hyde amendment. But research actually shows that accessible abortion is one of the best things a nation can do to improve women’s health. Pregnancy is dangerous. It’s even more dangerous in the United States, where maternal mortality is rising and the costs of childbirth are exorbitant. Women denied abortions are more likely to live in poverty, more likely to experience domestic violence, and more vulnerable to mental health problems. Women are far more likely to suffer when they are denied abortions than they are to regret abortions.
When a woman has a baby for whom she can’t care, taxpayers pick up a portion of the bill in the form of food stamps and other government programs. They may also fund the cost of foster care if the woman is an unfit parent, or incarceration if the child grows up in an environment that turns him or her into a criminal. An abortion costs a few hundred dollars. Pulling a family out of poverty takes years, costs thousands, and burns money that is better spent on preventing poverty in the first place. Repairing a damaged child costs hundreds of thousands, and may not even be possible.