This Law Will Change Lives:
Why the Reproductive Health Equity Act Matters
By Christy Powers
We all know someone with a personal healthcare story that helps us better understand the debate over healthcare. I never bargained for becoming one of those stories.
That’s why when Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed a landmark law today to improve access to basic reproductive healthcare, I thought I’d share my personal experience to show why this is such an important moment for women and our families across the state.
The Reproductive Health Equity Act codifies the right to abortion into law and makes reproductive healthcare more affordable. Had this been law been on the books already, it could have helped me and my family in one of our most vulnerable moments.
It was Christmas Day when we told our family we were expecting. Our daughter, 2 years old, held up a sign for each of her grandparents: “I am going to be a big sister.” We were so excited and so ready to grow our family. We had our first ultrasound at 10 weeks and heard the heartbeat, saw our little mover and shaker. All looked well. We were thrilled, beyond thrilled — here was this new life, perfectly planned and placed in our timeline.
At 38 years old, it was recommended that I get the fancy new screening test that would let us know if we needed further testing for chromosomal anomalies. But when the doctor herself called two weeks later, I knew then that the results were somehow off. I heard the word “trisomy” for the first time: it was an extra, unlucky chromosome 13 in every cell in our baby’s body. Trisomy 13 is fatal, rare, and the worst prognosis of the various chromosomal anomalies expecting mothers are tested for.
When we went into the new clinic a week later for an ultrasound, I asked point blank: I was seeing some anomalies, right?
“Right,” the technician said. When she left us waiting for the doctor, my husband and I had our first shared tears. Seeing him, the optimist in the room, cry, was what really got me.
Our new doctor was all candor and we trusted her immediately. This baby, she told us, was not going to make it. A laundry list of problems were present — lungs, brain, umbilical cord, and the extra fluid that I had seen on the ultrasound. If we were planning to terminate this baby, who was not going to make it on the outside or even to birth, it was time to make that call.
I never doubted that moving forward, moving on, was the way to go. Our decision revolved around our daughter, who was growing closer by the day to a baby who was going to die either inside me or outside me, sooner or later. It could easily be her first memory. My husband and I were in lockstep. We made a plan: tomorrow, we’d go to an abortion clinic in town and I would have my first abortion at 38 years old.
To our shock, the abortion clinic called that afternoon to tell us that we needed to bring $1,500 for our deposit and the rest would be billed later. I threw the phone. I cried and yelled. How in the world was this not covered entirely by my insurance? I was, and still am, livid.
The final bill, out of pocket and despite my “Gold” health care policy through my employer, was over $2,000. The next day, we said goodbye to our very loved, very wanted, very planned baby.
Our loss coincided with the Oregon state legislature’s debate on the Reproductive Health Equity Act, legislation that would dramatically lower costs for abortion and other reproductive health care for all residents of our state. It would also require that all insurance policies cover a host of important procedures, including abortion and postnatal care. I knew that there were mothers getting the same diagnosis as me and being unable to come up with $1,500-$6,000 to cover their medically necessary abortions. As a result, both my husband and I felt compelled to share our story with the Legislature to make sure they understood what was truly happening on the ground.
With the support of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, other pro-choice organizations, and my family, I sat in front of a panel of state legislators and shared our story. I cried a little, but the legislators cried more. When one testifying insurer balked at having to cover abortion, and when business owners balked at “funding” their employees’ abortions, I know that my face and our story reminded the listening legislators what a lack of insurance coverage could mean for pregnant women in scenarios like mine.
In a victory for women across our state, our legislators voted with a resounding YES for the Reproductive Health Equity Act and Gov. Kate Brown proudly signed the bill into law. Now, regardless of the circumstances, women in Oregon will no longer face tremendous financial barriers to accessing the care they need.
I know that my husband and I made a difference. I know that the Reproductive Health Equity Act will help women for years and decades to come. Every day, we think about our baby that was lost to us, and know that they made a difference, too. We feel lucky to have had the financial stability to afford the care we were able to access in our beautifully pro-choice state. Now, thanks to Gov. Brown signing the Reproductive Health Equity Act into law, we know that women across Oregon will have access to the same affordable care — and we hope that other states will soon follow in our footsteps.