Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs
The politics of birth control and abortion continue to dominate the debate in Washington as the controversy over the federal birth control mandate and its application to Catholic hospitals and universities stays on the front page of The New York Times. (See "Obama Tries to Ease Ire on Contraception Rule") In "Planned Parenthood, Worthy of Continued Financial Support," former Mayor Edward I. Koch commented on Susan G. Komen for the Cure's attempt to cut off funds for Planned Parenthood breast cancer screenings and then recounted his own decision on city funding of abortions using documents unearthed at the La Guardia and Wagner Archives.
In 1976 Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, which banned the use of federal funds for abortion, except for when the life of the mother was in danger. (Exceptions were later extended to rape and incest.) This cutoff of funds affected low income women on Medicaid. New York State (with financing evenly split between City and State) agreed to fund "medically necessary" abortions through Medicaid. Koch went further, arguing that "no woman in New York City who wants to have an abortion will be denied the opportunity to have an abortion due to an inability to pay." In January 1978 he agreed to finance "elective abortions" through City funds. By 1988 New York State and City were each spending $6 million on abortion through Medicaid and the City spent an additional $6.9 million for abortions by low income women not covered by Medicaid, directly funding 22,700 abortions that year.