Pennsylvania Not Alone in Denying Abortion Coverage for Low-Income Women

By Adrienne Ghorashi

Last week, a lawsuit was filed challenging Pennsylvania’s decades-old statute restricting the use of state Medicaid funding to pay for abortion services. The lawsuit, brought by a group of abortion providers in the state, claims the restriction discriminates against low-income women on the basis of sex, in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

The state law at issue restricts Medicaid coverage of abortion except in cases of rape or incest, or when necessary to avert the pregnant woman’s death. These restrictions are nearly identical to federal funding limitations known as the Hyde Amendment.

These restrictions have “a shameful and disproportionate impact on low-income women, Black women and women of color, immigrant women, young women, and families who have to travel long distances in order to access the care they need,”says Lexi White, policy director for New Voices for Reproductive Justice.

But Pennsylvania is not the only state that imposes such funding limitations through state law.

A comprehensive suite of legal datasets capturing 15 different types of abortion regulations, called the Abortion Law Project, was recently published on and includes laws on state Medicaid restrictions for abortion coverage. According to the Restrictions on Public Funding of Abortion dataset, 28 states including PA do not allow state Medicaid dollars to pay for abortion except in limited circumstances.

As of December 1, 2018, 28 states had laws that restricted Medicaid funding for abortion, however court opinion limits Medicaid funding restriction in the following states: AK, MN, MT, NJ, WV.

The dataset also captures state laws restricting public funding in other areas such as limitations on general government funds for abortion, government contracts with abortion providers, and government employee participation in abortion.

The Abortion Law Project provides a wealth of legal data on state laws that govern the provision of abortion services across the United States.

“This database will help users better understand the extent of regulations, thereby helping advocates, litigators and lawmakers to devise strategies to counter restrictions, and enabling providers to assist their patients in navigating legal hurdles,” said Elizabeth Nash, Senior State Issues Manager at the Guttmacher Institute. The resource also provides a valuable tool for researchers to evaluate the impact of abortion regulation, such as public funding restrictions, on public health outcomes and thus pave the way for removing barriers to reproductive health equity.


The Abortion Law Project was created through a collaboration between the Policy Surveillance Program at Temple University’s Center for Public Health Law Research, Guttmacher Institute, Resources for Abortion Delivery (RAD), American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Reproductive Rights, National Abortion Federation, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.  

Temple University Center for Public Health Law Research

Based at the Temple University Beasley School of Law, the Center for Public Health Law Research supports the widespread adoption of scientific tools and methods for mapping and evaluating the impact of law on health. It works by developing and teaching public health law research and legal epidemiology methods (including legal mapping and policy surveillance); researching laws and policies that improve health, increase access to care, and create or remove barriers to health (e.g., laws or policies that create or remove inequity); and communicating and disseminating evidence to facilitate innovation.

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