Continuing to put women’s health at risk, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals issued an opinion Sept. 3 refusing to overturn Florida’s ban on Medicaid-funded abortions. The Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the ban last August in A Choice for Women, Inc. v. Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, charging that the ban discriminates on the basis of sex.

Florida’s Medicaid program provides all medically necessary services for men’s reproductive health, yet fails to provide medically necessary services for women’s health when the service they need is an abortion.

In the opinion issued, the court ignored the sex discrimination claim and upheld the ban as “rational,” thereby allowing the state to continue violating women’s rights at the expense of their health. The Center for Reproductive Rights is considering appealing the decision to the Florida Supreme Court.

“By providing poor men with Viagra while denying women abortions that are needed to prevent serious health problems, Florida is making women second class citizens,” said Bonnie Scott Jones, staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights and lead counsel on the case. “Sadly, the opinion issued today fails to even address the plaintiffs’ sex discrimination challenge, leaving low-income women with unequal treatment and without needed medical care,” added Jones.

At a hearing in June, the Center for Reproductive Rights argued that it is unconstitutional to deny low-income women Medicaid-funded abortions when their health is threatened by a pregnancy. By covering all reproductive health services needed by men, and denying a particular reproductive health service needed by women, Florida is discriminating against women on the basis of sex. The Center is challenging the law on behalf of a Miami health center, its physician, and one of their patients – a woman who was denied Medicaid funding for an abortion even though she suffers from epileptic seizures and her epilepsy medication posed a serious threat to the health of the fetus.

Without Medicaid coverage for medically necessary abortions, some low-income women are forced to carry medically complicated pregnancies to term or to significantly delay obtaining the procedure while they seek alternate funds. Either alternative threatens those women’s health.

Currently 17 states cover all medically necessary abortions in their Medicaid programs. Courts in New Mexico and Connecticut have specifically ruled that denying Medicaid coverage for low-income women’s abortions is a form of sex discrimination.

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