A woman's right to lose

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s abortion real talk: ‘Poor women don’t have choice’

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spent Wednesday night at Duke University Law School, reflecting on the term that just ended and other major decisions during her tenure.

As the New York Times reported, she talked about what she viewed as the “most disappointing” of the bunch: Citizens United. Ginsburg, who dissented in the decision, said she was troubled by “what has happened to elections in the United States and the huge amount of money it takes to run for office.”

She also offered a bleak assessment of the current landscape for reproductive rights: “Reproductive freedom is in a sorry situation in the United States,” she said. “Poor women don’t have choice.”

Ginsburg is right, and she’s been right for a long time. Almost immediately after Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, Congress moved to ban public funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment, meaning that the nearly one in six women of reproductive age who get their insurance through Medicaid have virtually no way to pay for the procedure.

As I’ve written before, this is exactly what the Hyde Amendment was designed to do. “I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman,” former Illinois Rep. Henry Hyde, the bill’s sponsor and namesake, said in 1973. “Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the… Medicaid bill.”

And as states across the country push restrictions ranging from mandatory waiting periods to bans on private insurance, the cost barriers to abortion stack up, putting the procedure increasingly out of reach.

According to data from the Guttmacher Institute, one in four women are forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term because they can’t afford the procedure without insurance. And nearly 60 percent of women who were delayed in obtaining an abortion cited money as an impediment.

Since Roe, access to abortion has always come with a disclaimer for low-income women: a constitutional right, restrictions apply.

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