CHICAGO -- Sending a strong signal in support of the fundamental notion that all women deserve equal access to healthcare, including abortion care, the members of the Cook County Board today approved a resolution calling for access to abortion coverage for low-income women. The resolution was sponsored and strongly supported by Cook County Board Chair Toni Preckwinkle. The resolution is the latest in a series of similar resolutions that have been adopted by local governing bodies across the nation over the past two years.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois welcomed Cook County adding its name to this roster of municipalities, and applauded the Board's majority for supporting the measure.
"This action sends a strong message to state and federal policy-makers about the need to lift the unfair limitations on insurance coverage of abortion, especially when the insurance is provided or sponsored by the government," said Lorie Chaiten, Director of the Reproductive Rights Project at the ACLU of Illinois, after witnessing the vote. "Hundreds of thousands of women in Cook County alone face unnecessary obstacles to access comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion."
"Access to abortion should not depend on one's socio-economic status," added Chaiten.
The resolution notes that the largest obstacle to equal access to abortion services results from the so-called Hyde Amendment, first adopted by Congress in 1976. The measure, named for the late Congressman Henry Hyde of Illinois, bans Medicaid coverage of abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or to save the life of the pregnant woman. While a 1994 state court decision found that this ban violated the state constitution, research demonstrates that less than 10% of requests for payment from Medicaid are honored in Illinois.
“Sadly we hear stories of women in Cook County who delay accessing abortion care because they are forced to choose between buying groceries for the month and their health care, or are forced to borrow money to seek care,” added Brittany Mostiller-Keith, Executive Director of the Chicago Abortion Fund, a supporter of the resolution. “The stress and desperation created by the lack of insurance coverage is painful for many residents of Cook County. Approximately 80% of the women served by CAF are Cook County residents. We applaud the Board and President Preckwinkle for sending a signal of support for these women.”
"This is a crisis," added the ACLU's Chaiten. "The best estimate is that around 185,000 women of reproductive age in Cook County receive Medicaid. The choice of whether -- and when -- these women should become parents is not a matter for elected officials in Springfield or Washington, DC."
"It is unfair for politicians far away to impose their views on the health care choices of women in our County."
In addition to Medicaid coverage of abortion services, many women in Cook County are denied coverage because they receive their insurance through the federal or state government. Approximately 62,000 federal employees and retirees and more than 18,000 Illinois state employees reside in Cook County. All women of reproductive age in this group of nearly 80,000 government employees are subjected to abortion coverage restrictions because of federal and state policy. Such restrictions also apply to Cook County residents who serve in the military, volunteer for the Peace Corps, are serving time in federal prison or Native American women who utilize Indian Health Services.
"When one steps back and looks at the sheer numbers of women who are affected by these bans, it is critical that local governments speak up for the women in their jurisdiction," said Chaiten. "It is great that Board President Preckwinkle and the majority of the Board have sent such a strong signal of support for these women."