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Professor David Cohen and Women’s Law Project File Suit Against Pennsylvania’s Medicaid Abortion Ban

Professor David S. Cohen

January 17, 2019

Professor David S. Cohen joined the Women’s Law Project in filing a lawsuit on Jan. 16 challenging Pennsylvania’s ban on Medicaid coverage of abortions.

The suit seeks to overturn a prohibition on state Medicaid coverage for abortion, which is currently allowed only to avert the death of a pregnant woman or for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.  

The lawsuit was filed in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg on behalf of several health care providers who collectively perform about 95 percent of Pennsylvania abortions.

“The coverage ban interferes with the ability of poor women in Pennsylvania to access the abortion care they need,” the suit said, adding that the policy “forces women on Medical Assistance who seek abortions in Pennsylvania to choose between continuing their pregnancy to term against their will and using money that they would have otherwise used for daily necessities, such as shelter, food, clothing or childcare, to pay for the procedure.”

The lawsuit notes that there is no parallel coverage ban for men’s reproductive health and that the abortion coverage ban violates equal protection provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

The action comes some 33 years after a suit that also claimed the coverage ban discriminates on the basis of sex was rejected by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Sue Frietsche, a senior staff attorney with Women’s Law Project, said during a press conference announcing the new suit that the courts’ understanding of gender equality has evolved since the 1985 ruling.

News of the lawsuit was covered in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Patriot-News, which endorsed the action in an editorial.

Cohen, an authority on gender issues in the law, won a case he argued before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in September 2018, when he represented a mother whose newborn tested positive for opiates. He serves on the Women’s Law Project Board of Trustees.