As the debate over health care reform spreads from Capitol Hill to angry town halls across the country, the facts about reproductive health services and access can become distorted by the competing voices of interest groups.
In her August 5, 2009 article for RH Reality Check, Susan Cohen, the director of Government Affairs at the Guttmacher Institute, busts the myth that health care reform will result in a dramatic increase in the number of abortions.
Anti-abortion advocates have inappropriately extrapolated this conclusion from a recent series of literature reviews published by the Guttmacher Institute, analyzing the impact of federal and state policies aimed at restricting abortion access. She explains:
Researchers found that the Hyde Amendment, a provision in the federal budget restricting Medicaid funding for abortions, does have a significant impact on a woman’s decision: One in four women who would have an abortion if it were paid for by the government instead continue the pregnancy to term.
In a crude inversion of numbers, anti-abortion advocates reason that if the Hyde Amendment results in a 25 percent reduction in the number of women on Medicaid who obtain an abortions, its repeal would result in a 25 percent increase. This conclusion, however, is false.
An unpublished study by Guttmacher researchers estimated that if subsidized abortions were to become available in those states in which they are currently not available, there would be a 28 percent rise in the number of abortions among Medicaid-enrolled women in this group of states. This would translate to only a 5 percent increase in the total number of abortions in these states, because so few women are actually enrolled in Medicaid. Moreover, many of the most populous states, including California and New York, already use their own money to pay for abortion services for poor women.
The nation-wide impact, therefore, of repealing the Hyde amendment would be even smaller: The number of abortions among Medicaid-eligible women nationwide would be expected to increase by only 2.5 percent, approximately 33,000 women.
While restoring public funding would clearly increase women’s access to abortion, the extent of the increase is neither as dramatic nor one-dimensional as some anti-abortion advocates would maintain. Within the context of an increasingly vitriolic national debate over health care reform and a woman’s right to choose, fair and accurate information from media outlets and reporters is essential if we are to succeed in our efforts to achieve reproductive justice for all women.
Earlier this summer, Nuestra Vida, Nuestra Voz posted our letter of support sent to PBS producers foraward-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa’s coverage of Dr. George Tiller’s assassination in late May 2009, in “Abortion Providers Under Siege.”
Along with illustrating how the anti-choice movement uses intimidation and harassment to reduce the number of abortion providers, Hinojosa examines the role of the right wing media in drumming up the radical anti-choice movement and encouraging violent action.
Predictably, anti-choice groups began organizing against PBS and pressuring the network for this choice in programming. Although her journalistic integrity was vindicated by a confident review of the appointed ombudsman, Ken A. Bode, the collective action against Hinojosa’s analysis and the need for Susan Cohen to clarify the Guttmacher report highlights the ways in which statistics and facts can become twisted in the struggle for health care reform and access.
By Ivette Sanchez, Community Mobilization Intern