Thinking About Abortion Access: The Need to Reverse Hyde
In 1976, just three years after Roe v Wade legalized abortion, Congress passed a prohibition on abortion coverage in Medicaid. Known as the Hyde Amendment this ban on federal abortion funding is reauthorized annually by Congress.
Let’s be clear: the Hyde Amendment was created to stop low income women from getting abortions. Representative Henry Hyde, the amendment’s sponsor, said: “I would certainly 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."
Although the language of the Hyde Amendment has changed over the years, it currently prohibits federal Medicaid coverage of abortion unless the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or if the woman’s life is in danger. Only seventeen states (including Connecticut) cover medically necessary abortions with their own state Medicaid funds. Rhode Island, conversely, does not permit state funding of abortion either for Medicaid enrollees or for state employees. Volunteer-led abortion funds, like Rhode Island’s Women’s Health and Education Fund (WHEF) work hard to make abortion more accessible to those without funding but can only, realistically, pay a small portion of these costs for women in need.
The Hyde Amendment and Rhode Island’s state policy do not cover abortion even when a woman’s own health is in serious jeopardy, for example, when a pregnant woman fighting cancer may require chemotherapy. Delaying chemotherapy might hasten that woman’s death, but because her death is not “imminent,” such a case generally does not fit within the narrow “life endangerment” exception.
Low-income women denied abortion coverage under Hyde may postpone basic needs like food, rent, heating, and utilities in order to save money for an abortion. Low-income women are often forced to delay an abortion because they need time to raise the money. In one study, more than one-third of women that had an abortion in the second trimester stated that they would have preferred to have the procedure earlier but could not because they needed to raise money.
Other women may be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. One study showed that a year after attempting to obtain an abortion, women denied an abortion were more likely to live below the federal poverty level and receive public assistance than those who received an abortion.
These restrictions disproportionately affect women of color. In 2012, 20 percent of Medicaid enrollees were African-American, 29 percent were Hispanic, and 9 percent were Asian-American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, American Indian, Aleutian or Eskimo. African-American and Latina women are more likely than White women to rely on Medicaid for coverage of family planning services, and they are also more likely than White women to face financial barriers when seeking abortions.
Rosie Jimenez, a Latina college student who was unable to pay for a legal abortion, became the first woman to die from a back alley abortion soon after the passage of the Hyde Amendment. Her tragically unnecessary death has inspired activists for decades, to right the wrong that is Hyde.
So…what is PPSNE doing about this?
We’re working with a national coalition called “All Above All” that includes dozens of women’s health and justice organizations, including PPFA, and is working to reverse the Hyde Amendment by passing the EACH Woman Act (H.R. 2972) which would lift the bans that deny abortion coverage. Most of the CT and RI delegation to Congress are sponsors of this bill…we’re working on those who haven’t yet signed.
In Rhode Island, our policy efforts are beginning to focus on how to reverse the state funding bans. This has been an uphill battle with a State House historically strongly opposed to reproductive health and rights. Now, with a pro-women’s health governor and hope for a more favorable General Assembly after the elections, our public policy department and the RI reproductive justice coalition hope to make this issue a priority.
Defeating these discriminatory abortion funding bans means that women will have the health insurance coverage they need, to make a real, personally meaningful decision when faced with an unintended pregnancy. After all, isn’t that the promise of Roe?
The author is the Vice President of Public Policy & Advocacy at Planned Parenthood of Southern New England. If you need more information about abortion bans, or want to get involved, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.