39 Years of Shame

by | Sep 30, 2015 | Reproductive Rights

Imagine a public policy that pushes women who are living paycheck to paycheck deeper into poverty… that exacerbates the health disparities that plague our nation… that creates often-insurmountable barriers to accessing health care.

The Hyde Amendment does all of that. For 39 years, this callous and damaging federal policy has withheld coverage for abortion care from women enrolled in Medicaid. It affects millions of low-income women, making abortion care unaffordable for most of them.

Since the Hyde Amendment was first passed, it has been reaffirmed every year by politicians who think that the amount of money a woman has should determine her access to health care – that if you are poor, it is okay for politicians to take away your ability to make the most personal decisions you may ever face.

Fifteen states have policies in place that allow state Medicaid funds to cover abortion care, but 35 states do not. As a result, the Hyde Amendment is causing real and irreparable harm to women and families every day. Research shows the toll it is taking. Women who want to access abortion care but are denied are three times more likely to fall into poverty than women who can get the abortion care they need. Restricting Medicaid coverage for abortion services forces one in four women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.

What Hyde supporters really want to do is to take away the right to abortion care, and access to abortion care, for all women in this country. They haven’t been able to do that, so instead they are denying abortion coverage to low-income women. It’s a disgrace.

It’s long past time to say that treating people differently because they are struggling to make ends meet is outrageous and antithetical to our country’s values, that we will no longer allow politicians to deny access to essential health care for women enrolled in Medicaid.

The good news is that in July, legislation was introduced in the House that would finally undo the Hyde Amendment. The Equal Access to Abortion Coverage (EACH Woman) Act (H.R. 2972) would restore abortion coverage to women who receive health care or insurance through the federal government. It would also prohibit political interference with health insurance companies that decide to offer coverage for abortion care. Led by Representatives Barbara Lee (D – Calif.), Diana DeGette (D – Colo.) and Jan Schakowsky (D –  Ill.), the bill has 100 cosponsors who say enough is enough.

When it comes to the most important decisions in life, which certainly includes whether or not to become a parent, all women must be able to consider their options and make the best decisions for themselves and their families. That isn’t the case right now. The Hyde Amendment turns 39 years old today, and I have confidence it will not last another 39 years thanks to congressional leaders who understand that access to a constitutional right has been denied to low-income women for much too long.