Local organizations say they are already feeling the effects of a move to end government funding for abortions in the District of Columbia.

The DC Abortion Fund has seen an outpouring of financial support since H.R. 3, No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, was introduced. The House passed the GOP-backed legislation May 5 and it now awaits Senate approval, though President Obama has vowed to veto the measure.

In a press release dated April 14, Abortion Fund’s Tiffany Reed said the organization raised $14,619 from individuals, donors and Councilmember Jim Graham. But, said Kate Vlach, a board member of the pro-choice organization, the financial support the organization receives is not enough.

“Ultimately, the massive outpouring of support from the community has put DCAF in a very strong position to assist even more women,” Vlach said, “but a small grassroots fund like ours will never be able to replace the comprehensive coverage provided by the Medicaid program.”

Medicaid coverage for abortions was rescinded in April, forcing some clients to put their procedures on hold. The organization worked with local and national abortion fund programs to make sure 28 women that were scheduled to be seen on April 13 were able to keep their appointments, Vlach said. However, there were other women, number unknown, who were scheduled for abortions the next day and weekend, who found out they were unable to use their Medicaid. Instead, they are waiting to raise more money for their abortions.

“For some of these women, such a delay may have pushed their procedures into an even higher price range, making abortion care out of reach for them,” Vlach said. “We worked to help all of the clients who called us that week, but it’s very possible that some women may have given up in the face of so many barriers.”

The organization does not have a physical location to interact with clients, conferring with them by phone, only. Last year, 1,766 girls and women called DCAF’s hotline – a number that has doubled since the previous fiscal year, Vlach said. Of those who called in 2010, 426 received grants to help pay for abortions. Many of those recipients are D.C. residents between the ages of 18 and 30, who have at least one child.

Vlach said the choice of a getting Medicaid instead of private insurance should not decrease a person’s access to health care coverage. “Just because someone gets their health coverage through Medicaid instead of a private insurance plan doesn’t mean she should be denied access to care or have fewer health care options,” she said.

But supporters of the GOP-backed {No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act}, such as Deirde McQuade, assistant director of policy and communications at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said the vast majority of Americans want to reduce abortions and the legislation will protect taxpayers, who unequivocally finance those under Medicaid.

“The vast majority of Americans want to reduce abortions,” McQuade said. “ strongly in favor of this funding ban … it protects U.S. taxpayers for subsidizing abortions and protects health care providers.”

McQuade said that passing the bill will mean “turning it into a law where it doesn’t have to be revisited every year.”

Even though the legislation may alleviate the headache of politicians constantly voting on the Hyde Amendment, which must be renewed every year and has less restrictions on abortions than H.R. 3, Ilir Zherka, the executive director of non-partisan organization D.C. Vote, said that the bill strips the city’s autonomy. The bill prohibits the District from using locally-raised taxpayer dollars for any abortion services. Zherka said that should be the decision of D.C. residents.

“For it’s not a question about abortion, we’re focused on who decides how D.C. money is spent,” he said. “For us, the question is about local control.”

The organization held a protest May 4 in Upper Senate Park in outcry against the sweeping passage of H.R. 3 in the House. Joined by local lawmakers and organizations such as the Greater Washington Urban League and the DC League of Women Voters, D.C. Vote members were arrested, including Abigail Levine, the organization’s program and development manager.

“I was moved to get arrested at last week’s rally because I saw that D.C. women were being used by a bargaining chip by women,” she said. “By getting arrested, I wanted to send a message to the president and Congress.”

The bill now faces the Democrat-controlled Senate, but, according to a White House statement, the president is moving towards vetoing the bill.

 

Erica Butler

AFRO Staff Writer