Fighting for Abortion Coverage for Low-Income Pennsylvanians

Fighting for Abortion Coverage for Low-Income Pennsylvanians

Since 1976, Congress has restricted the use of federal Medicaid funding for abortion care. Under the current version of the restriction, commonly known as the Hyde Amendment, federal funding is only available for abortions when a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or threatens the life of the pregnant person.

The Hyde Amendment has a devastating effect on low-income individuals. Research confirms that without Medicaid coverage for abortions, many individuals have no choice but to carry a pregnancy to term against their will. The restriction disproportionately hurts people of color, who, due to structural racism and discrimination, are more likely to rely on Medicaid for their health care.

In 1981, the Supreme Court upheld the Hyde Amendment in Harris v. McRae, finding that it did not violate the U.S. Constitution. In the wake of that decision (which has been roundly criticized), several state courts held that state constitutional protections required coverage of abortion care for individuals enrolled in Medicaid. Due in part to these court rulings, a number of states now use their own funding to cover some or all abortions for Medicaid-eligible individuals.

Pennsylvania is not one of those states. In 1985, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held in Fischer v. Department of Public Welfare that a state funding restriction similar to the Hyde Amendment did not violate the Pennsylvania Constitution. Early last year, eight reproductive health centers in Pennsylvania filed suit seeking reconsideration of Fischer and ultimately, a court order requiring the Commonwealth to cover abortion care for Medicaid beneficiaries. The case, Allegheny Reproductive Health Center v. Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, is currently under consideration in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.

Recently, the National Health Law Program, along with local counsel at Berner Klaw & Watson LLP, filed an amicus (or “friend of the court”) brief in support of the health centers. Our brief provides the court with relevant background information about the Medicaid program. It also corrects several misstatements Republican state legislators, who intervened in the case, made in their briefing.

The case has tremendous implications for low-income individuals in Pennsylvania. If the health centers are successful, thousands of Medicaid beneficiaries across the Commonwealth will have access to the full scope of reproductive health services that they need to maintain their health and well-being.


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