“Punishing, Invasive and Painful”
Statement of D.J. Feldman on Harmful Impact of Abortion Coverage Restrictions
No Abortion Ban Campaign Launch, Washington, DC, 11.16.09
Good morning. My name is D.J. Feldman. I am 41 years old, married and work for the federal government. Last year, I had an abortion after a diagnosis showing a fatal fetal abnormality.
By now, many people know from the health care debate that for federal employees, no federal monies can be used to pay for an abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when a woman’s life is in danger. But I was completely unaware of these funding restrictions until they hit me in a very personal and painful way in the summer of 2008.
In May 2008, I got pregnant. My husband and I were extremely excited about becoming first-time parents.
Three months later, we received the most devastating news that any expectant parents can receive – our doctor told us that our baby had a severe neural tube defect and the diagnosis was 100 percent fatal. There’s no cure, and there’s nothing anyone can do.
The condition is called anencephaly and it results in the absence of a major portion of the brain, skull and scalp. If the pregnancy is not terminated when the defect is discovered, the fetus can die in utero at some point before term and that would mean that a woman will have to go through labor to deliver a dead fetus. If the baby survives to term, it could either be stillborn or it would die within a short time after birth.
We were absolutely overcome with grief. My doctor told us that the safest thing to do was to terminate the pregnancy immediately. She gave us two options – either we could make an appointment for an abortion the next day and go to the hospital and she’d arrange for a doctor on call to perform the termination, or she would come in on Saturday to do it herself. There was no question in my doctor’s mind that this abortion was medically necessary.
We went home that day and just cried. And I chose to have the abortion that Saturday, so it would be performed by my doctor, who had cared for me during my pregnancy. For weeks, I woke up in the middle of the night sobbing. I would burst into tears at any given moment. I took time off work. It took me a long time to get to the place where I could actually function. But finally I started to heal with the support of my husband and family.
Needless to say, during all of this time, insurance coverage was the last thing on my mind. The day we heard the news, I spoke to my doctor’s office and the receptionist at the front desk made all of the arrangements for me to go to the hospital. At no time did anyone indicate to me that the abortion would not be covered by my insurance. They even took my insurance card. It wasn’t until six weeks later that I started getting denials from my insurance company.
At first I thought that there must have been some mistake. But after a closer look, I was surprised to find out that the insurance book said, “pregnancy terminations are only covered in cases of rape, incest or life of the mother.” I still thought that a termination of a pregnancy that was 100 percent certain to end in the death of my baby would be covered. But I was wrong.
I sent in an appeal of the denial. The insurance company finally told me that they understood that I had been diagnosed with anencephaly, but they’d determined that my life would not be endangered if I carried my pregnancy to term. They said that I had to pay the $9,000 bill. It was at this point that I discovered that this was a matter of law, that this was something Congress had done in the appropriations process.
It was at this point that I got very angry, because I discovered that my health care had been compromised by politics. In other words, they expected me to carry the pregnancy to term against my doctor’s judgment, despite health risks to me and my emotional anguish. And as a result, I was required to pay for the non-covered procedure.
That’s when I learned just how punishing, invasive, and painful federal policy is when it comes to women’s lives. A decision that should have been left between me and my doctor was made by politicians. That’s when I contacted the Center for Reproductive Rights, to see if they knew this was going on.
They knew all about it. When Nancy asked me to share my story publicly, I struggled with the decision for a long time. Too often, pro-choice people are harassed and my husband and I were afraid of being targeted. But after thinking long and hard, we decided that speaking out might help others. And now with Congress threatening to extend these funding restrictions to millions more people, it is even more urgent that lawmakers realize just how their decisions in Washington affect people’s lives.
Thankfully, my husband and I were able to pay our bill, which we worked with the hospital and doctors to reduce to $5,000, but even this amount of money would be prohibitive for many women and families. And I should not have had to pay anything.
I am standing up for all the women that do not have the strength, the will or the means to try do something about these restrictions. As I stand here today, it is my hope that our elected officials in Congress will stand up for women’s health needs as well.