Debate Over Medicaid Funding For Abortions Resumes In Florida
A judge in Florida refused to dismiss a lawsuit yesterday challenging the state’s ban for funding most abortions under Medicaid. While Administrative Judge Patricia Malono does not have the authority to hear the case involving a pregnant epileptic woman seeking an abortion to avert serious medical risks to herself and her child, she did hear arguments from both sides and passed the case on to an appeals court.
With legal representation from the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy and the American Civil Liberties Union, a Miami abortion clinic, a doctor and Monica Navarrete – a pregnant woman who has epilectic seizures during pregnancy and has previously given birth to a child with a serious bone disease resulting from her taking anti-seizure medication – filed the lawsuit, claiming that the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration’s denial of Medicaid coverage for abortion discriminates against low-income women who seek to terminate their pregnancies for medical reasons. Medicaid does cover all reproductive health care needed by men, the suit argues, including Viagra for impotency. “This is not about the right to legal abortions or any right to medical care,” Attorney Bonnie Scott Jones argued, as reported in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “It’s about the right of women to equal treatment in the Medicaid program.”
In Florida, Medicaid will pay for abortions needed to save the life of the woman or in cases of rape or incest. However, federal law allows states to limit the use of federal tax dollars to pay for abortions. Bob Sharpe, Florida’s Medicaid director, testified the state would not get federal matching dollars for abortions in cases such as Navarrete’s.
Pro-choice activists note that improving access to abortion under Medicaid could curb unsafe, illegal abortions among poor women. In 1977, Rosie Jimenez became the first victim of the Hyde Amendment that bans the use of federal money for abortions except to save a woman’s life. Jimenez was a poor, single mother saving money for college who decided to have a back alley abortion instead of using her tuition money so that she could some day make it off welfare and support herself and her daughter on her own.
Media Resources: Associated Press 8/30/02; Sarasota Herald-Tribune 8/28/02; Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report 8/29/02; News-Press 8/30/02