“I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the…Medicaid bill.”
–Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL, 1975-2007)
2017 marks the 40th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment.* For four decades now, women who rely on Medicaid or any of the other federal health insurance programs have not had abortion coverage, with minimal exception. They have had their reproductive rights suppressed because of their incomes and/or employers.
Medicaid provides health coverage to 14.5 million women of reproductive age—women living in poverty, who happen to have a much higher rate of unintended pregnancy. Consequently, in 2014 three-quarters of all abortions were obtained by women living below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.** With the average first-trimester abortion costing nearly $500, women who are already struggling financially are set back even further by forking over such a considerable amount of money for a procedure that many women with higher incomes rightfully have covered by insurance.
It’s an abomination, and the shame doesn’t stop there.
In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Hyde Amendment, ruling that “a woman’s freedom of choice [does not carry] with it a constitutional entitlement to the financial resources to avail herself of the full range of protected choices.” i.e. Yeah, it’s a right and all, but only if you can afford it.
Individual states are permitted to use their own Medicaid funds to cover abortion, but only 17 of them do, many by court order. In practice, however, only 15 states actually fund abortion through Medicaid—Arizona and Illinois are both in violation of their court orders. There are 7 million women ages 15–44 enrolled in Medicaid who live in the 35 states (plus the District of Columbia) that do not cover abortion. More than half of these 7 million are women of color.
The Hyde Amendment is an assault to women, the poor, and people of color. All of the groups that the right wing works so hard to keep down, come to think of it.
With a new president who supports the amendment and a Congress that has already voted to codify it into permanent law, we are unlikely to see progress on this particular affront to reproductive choice in the next four years. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop working to expose supporters of the policy at every opportunity. Members of Congress are public servants and they are accountable to you, their constituents. If you don’t like the way they vote, tell them. And if they vote in the name of progress and equality, tell them how much you appreciate it—encouragement goes a long way as well.
We may be stuck with another four years of Hyde, but the long game is one we’re still very committed to winning. With your help, we will.
* It passed Congress in 1976 and went into effect in 1977.
** The federal poverty line was $11,670 in 2014 for one individual—200 percent of that is a mere $23,340.
Contact Marian at firstname.lastname@example.org.