D.C. abortion funding: an explainer

When budget deal between the White House and congressional leaders was announced late Friday night, it meant government offices would open Monday. School children and families could still visit national parks and museums over the weekend. Handheld electronic devices would remain clipped to Hill staffers’ belts.

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(Photo: Associated Press)

Yet not every government activity got re-funded. At least one important one went in the other direction. Abortion funding in the District lost its source of revenue. “John, I will give you D.C. abortion. I am not happy about it,” President Barack Obama reportedly said, according to the Washington Post. With that concession, a D.C. program to assist low-income women in paying for abortion services would go kaput, barring any last-minute turnabout.

Obama’s compromise means that the District will be prohibited from using taxpayer revenue to fund abortion procedures. The move simply replaces a ban that was lifted just a few years ago, meaning that city abortion funding is undergoing the same seesaw movement as other controversial initiatives: Needle exchange and vouchers have also gotten alternating green and red lights depending on the political mood on Capitol Hill.

So what does this all mean for District residents? Here’s some of your abortion rider questions, answered.

How many women have used the D.C. abortion funding?
Probably not that many. The funding restriction was lifted in 2009, but clinics then had to contact insurance providers and set up contracts, said DC Abortion Fund President Tiffany Reed. The details of those contracts took some time to iron out. That stalled the process, and Reed says her organization had only recently started referring Medicaid patients to the local Planned Parenthood clinic for abortion services.

“I'm just shocked,” says Reed, whose group works with low-income residents. “We barely even got it off the ground.”

Reed’s organization had referred just a handful of women — probably less than five — to Planned Parenthood in the weeks that the program was up and running, she says. Her organization hadn’t heard back from a single referral, so they had assumed there were no problems processing the claims.

Reed says her organization hasn’t even had a chance to review its data or check for changes in call volume to see if the funding helped. So it remains unclear exactly how the funding affected women in the District, where the abortion rate remains above the national average.

“We were hoping to get a little bit of relief on our fund from having D.C. Medicaid pay,” says Reed. “Not all the women that we work with are on D.C. Medicaid, but we were very excited about not having as much on our plates.”

Exactly how much money were we talking about here?
The money would have covered the full price of an abortion in the District, a cost that generally ranges from $300 to $500, Reed says. As Reed understood the system, D.C. Medicaid was accepted for abortions of pregnancies that had progressed up to 20 weeks.

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