New York City officials recently set aside $250,000 to help women who travel from other states obtain abortions in the city, an action that acknowledges the broader national debate over access to abortion, says Aziza Ahmed, a Northeastern law professor who studies health law.
Legislators in nine states this year have passed laws that restrict access to abortions for their residents. Ahmed says the New York City funding, which was allocated specifically for people traveling to the city for an abortion who couldn’t otherwise afford one, is a response to such legislation.
“This is New York City saying, ‘We know women are going to have to get on a plane and come here to get abortions,’ and that’s a very specific political move,” says Ahmed, who teaches a course at Northeastern on reproductive and sexual health and rights.
It’s not the first time a city or state government agency has used its own funding to provide access to abortions, Ahmed says. The Hyde Amendment, which was implemented in 1977, forbids the use of federal funds for abortions except in cases of rape or incest, or when the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life.
In those situations exempted from the federal funding ban, states must cover the cost of abortions for women who wouldn’t be able to afford them on their own. Most often, states do that with money from Medicaid programs.
Fifteen states (including New York) have a policy that goes above and beyond the exceptions outlined in the Hyde Amendment, directing Medicaid to pay for abortions that are considered medically necessary for other reasons.
What makes the funding in New York City unique, Ahmed says, is that it was created in response to states, such as Alabama, that have passed legislation that would restrict access to abortions.
“If you’re a poor woman in a state like Alabama, you’re going to encounter numerous barriers when you attempt to get an abortion in your state,” Ahmed says. “This policy in New York City acknowledges that women will likely travel out of state, including to New York City, to have an abortion. [City officials] are connecting to our national conversation about abortion.”