‘Substantial Endangerment’ of women ok’ed by Virginia!

Many thanks to our intern, Amber, for her work on this article.

On Wednesday, the Virginia Legislature approved Governor McDonnell’s amendment to the budget that removes state funding of abortion in cases that will severely harm—but not quite kill—the pregnant woman. A stark departure from the status quo, McDonnell’s amendment is one that was discussed and initially rejected by the legislature during the 2010 General Assembly session. It comes as quite a surprise and disappointment that some representatives switched their votes and allowed this measure to pass.

The anti-choice, anti-women advocates would like nothing less than forced-birth or forced-death for all low-income women, but the federal regulations of the Hyde amendment protect coverage for rape, incest, and life of the woman.

For the time being, Virginia Medicaid continues to cover abortions for severe and incapacitating fetal abnormalities, but we don’t doubt that the ‘anti’ crowd, including McDonnell, will be after that next. In their attempts to pass the Medicaid Abortion Amendment, they painted such situations as elective, referring to them as the “health” (quotations theirs) as if these very rare and severe cases are simply a choice made by Medicaid recipients because they are feeling a bit of nausea or some cramps. In fact, they cover only very rare and serious issues. 

As the Governor’s own staff wrote, in explaining the consequences of this measure, this amendment will impede any state or state regulated funding “for abortions that are performed when there is “substantial endangerment” of the health of the mother.” That’s right, the state itself defined it as substantial endangerment!

On the Senate floor, Dr. Ralph Northam, the Senator from Norfolk, attempt to explain the situations this funding covered, warning that a woman might go blind or have severe damage to her kidneys as the result of a pregnancy combined with severe diabetes.

“Her health is impaired but her life is not,” he said. “That’s when we need to be able to sit down with her and ask the tough, tough question whether we terminate the pregnancy to save her eyesight or kidneys.” 1

For a low-income woman on Medicaid, sacrificing her health for a pregnancy does not just affect her health, but also her job and her ability to care for her existing family members.

Furthermore, we’ve found that this will also affect women who have miscarried and women who are not even receiving Medicaid funding!

As Delegate Jennifer McClellan explained, herself pregnant and having had the opportunity to discuss this with her OB, “The procedure to complete an incomplete miscarriage is the same as an abortion. Virginia law does not distinguish.”1 For a Medicaid recipient who needs to have a dead fetus removed from her body, there will be no way for her to pay for the procedure, leaving her health and safety at risk. (For more on why this is, you can read one woman’s story about the difficulties and dangers she faced, even without financial worries, here.)

The University of Virginia Hospital released a statement about how this could affect Virginians who do not receive Medicaid funding. They said, “If the language is interpreted in the most restrictive manner, we believe that UVa would not be able to perform an abortion, except as called for by the Federal Medicaid – Hyde Amendment.” They believe that, “because the budget amendment includes no expenditures from NGF as well, it would prohibit third-party pay abortions, both self-pay and insurance company payments” (emphasis ours). Because it is a state funded hospital, UVa (and other state-funded hospitals) may not be able to perform medically necessary abortions that women themselves (or their insurance companies) pay for!

They are looking into the impact of the language of this amendment. Apparently they have learned that “it was not the Governor’s intent to prohibit medically necessary abortions that would be paid from third-party insurance companies,” but they are still trying to clarify the ramifications for women across the Commonwealth.

It seems that although the Governor’s attempt to limit access to medically necessary abortions is targeted only at women on Medicaid, it may well affect all women whose nearest medical center is a state funded institution by stopping them from paying for their own medically necessary abortions!

In the House, the amendment passed (64-30). In the Senate, (20-19).  You can click on the votes to see how your legislator voted. Please take the time to thank your legislators for standing up for women in the most desperate of situations and to call out those who sacrificed the health of low-income women and their families.

If you live in the Districts of Senator Reynolds, Senator Colgan, Senator Quayle, Delegate Bulova, Delegate Torian, or Delegate P. Miller, it is especially important to contact them! These representatives, though they are most often pro-choice friends, voted in favor of this amendment. Please call their office and  ask why they did so. Let us know what they say, as we are deeply disturbed by their actions.

It is interesting to note that the only person to abstain from voting was Delegate Bob Marshall, a fiercely anti-choice Delegate who has sponsored bills such as this year’s HB112 granting the “constitutional right to life” to zygotes, embryos and fetuses which was opposed by representatives across the political spectrum. Delegate Marshall disagreed with the amendment because it said that both Federal and Virginia statues must be upheld, which includes Medicaid funding for abortions when there is a severe and incapacitating fetal abnormality.

Please also consider making a donation to the DC Abortion Fund, a wonderful organization that helps fund abortions for women who cannot afford them in the DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland area. Now, more than ever, these women will need all the assistance that we can provide.

Read the Washington Post article about the Budget Votes here.

Read the AP article about the Budget Votes here.

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