Pennsylvania Sued over State Law Limiting Medicaid Coverage for Abortion

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A group of abortion providers sued Pennsylvania over a statute that limits abortion coverage under the state’s Medicaid program known as Medical Assistance.

The Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act of 1982 prohibits using commonwealth and federal funds for abortion coverage except in cases of pregnancy caused by incest and rape and to prevent the death of a pregnant woman.

In 1985 (Fisher v. Department of Public Welfare, 502 A.2d 114), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the state law limiting Medical Assistance for abortion.

Petitioners argue that the 1982 state law discriminates women

In their complaint on Wednesday, the abortion providers argued that the state law violates the Equal Rights Amendment and the equal protection provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

“The denial of Medical Assistance coverage for low-income women seeking to terminate a pregnancy contravenes fundamental guarantees of equality and poses a dire threat to their health and well-being,” reads the lawsuit.

The complainants stressed the state law discriminates women for excluding abortion from Medical Assistance. They argued, “The coverage ban also flows and reinforces gender stereotypes about the primacy of women’s reproductive function and maternal role, and thus offends the Pennsylvania Equal Rights Amendment’s prohibition again sex discrimination.”

In addition, the abortion providers stated, “The Pennsylvania coverage ban singles out and excludes women from exercising the fundamental right to terminate a pregnancy while covering procedures and health care related to pregnancy and childbirth.”

Furthermore, they reiterated that state law discriminates women because it prohibits them from exercising their fundamental right to choose to terminate a pregnancy. Thus, it violates the equal protection provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Petitioners are seeking a court declaration that abortion is a fundamental right

The abortion providers are requesting the court to declare that the state law limiting Medical Assistance for abortion and its implementing regulations unconstitutional. They are also seeking a declaration that abortion is a fundamental right under the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Attorneys from the Women’s Law Project are representing the abortion providers in the lawsuit.

In a statement, Susan J. Frietsche, senior staff attorney at the Women’s Law Project, commented, “Pennsylvania’s ban on Medicaid coverage of abortion is a decades-long injustice that deprives low-income women of reproductive health care…It inflicts severe harm on women because of their reproductive capacity, and it does so in service to discredited sex-role stereotypes that continue to limit women’s equal participation in society.”

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf supports abortion rights. In 2017, he rejected a bill that criminalizes abortion and “leaves no exceptions for victims of rape or incest.”