CREDIT: Fem 2.0
This week marks the unhappy birthday of the Hyde Amendment. Hardly mentioned in the media due to the current government shutdown, this appropriations rider has prohibited federal funds from paying for abortion services for nearly forty years. Ironically, this issue was actually at the center of a potential government shutdown in 1976, particularly by those furious about the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.
The Hyde Amendment was intentionally crafted as a discriminatory provision to target poor women, and its application has been particularly detrimental to women of color. As Rep. Henry Hyde (R), the amendment’s architect, stated at the time, “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.”
Since that time, the Hyde amendment has not only restricted the use of federal dollars for women insured by Medicaid, but it has also spawned similar restrictions for women who use government health care, such as federal employees, military personnel, federal inmates, DC residents, and Native American women. But despite its detrimental impact, too many women are unaware of the facts related to it or the growing base of activist committed to repealing it. Here are three basic reasons you should care about the Hyde Amendment, especially amid the constant attacks that Congress and state legislatures make against women:
1. The Hyde Amendment is not etched in stone.
Even advocates familiar with this policy often are unaware that the Hyde Amendment is not a permanent piece of law, but a rider attached to the federal spending budget each year. Since 1976, this rider has been approved along with the federal spending bill, although exceptions for rape and incest and preserving the life of the mother have been added. But the president and Congress have the ability to remove this rider and other abortion-related items from the federal spending budget.
Because this rider is basically an item within a larger bill, Hyde rarely has to be voted on independently. In fact, since 1976 the bill has only had four up-or-down votes, with the last vote taking place in 1997.
2. The Hyde Amendment discriminates against poor women.
This bill was passed explicitly to prevent poor women from having access to abortion. Rep. Hyde also went on record to say, “If rich women want to enjoy their high-priced vices, that is their responsibility…that is fine, but not at the taxpayers’ expense.” But the constitutional rights of women to seek and obtain an abortion cannot be fully guaranteed without granting poor women the same rights and access to abortion services as those who have the financial means to do so.
Almost half of all women who have abortions are poor women. And one out of ten women use Medicaid as their primary source of insurance. The Hyde Amendment prohibits women from receiving the full scope of legal medical services available to them. Should a poor woman need to secure abortion services, which can range between $300 and $950 in the first trimester, she must forgo paying essential bills such as food, utilities, and rent, or borrow from friends in order to pay for the services.
Futhermore, because inequities in the healthcare system limit access to insurance, contraception, and reproductive health information, poor women face disproportionately higher rates of unintended pregnancies. According the Guttmacher Institute, the unintended pregnancy rates for poor women have increased since 1987 while rates for higher income women have decreased.
3. The Hyde Amendment discriminates against women of color.
Due to economic and health disparities, women of color are more likely to live in poverty and less likely to have the ability to pay for their health care needs out of pocket. According to 2011 census data, 25.5 percent of African Americans and 25 percent of Latinas are living below the poverty level, compared to only 10.4 percent of whites and 12.2 percent of Asians. Income insecurity plays an enormous role in women’s ability to access services, including contraception and sexual health information.
Women of color make up high numbers of women on Medicaid because they are more likely to be poor. In 2011, 40.9 percent of African American females and 36.3 percent of Latinas had government-based insurance — including 29.2 percent and 29.6 percent participation, respectively, in Medicaid.
Women of color need more access to abortion services due to the higher rates of unintended pregnancies. African American women of child bearing age have the highest rates of unintended pregnancy rates and abortion rates, while Latinas lead in unintended birth rates.
Ultimately, the constitutional right to abortion should be guaranteed to all women, regardless of her socioeconomic status or the source of her insurance.
This isn’t an unrealistic goal. Many states have already taken the steps necessary to ensure that women have the coverage they need. Four states provide coverage voluntarily through state funding, while thirteen do so through court order. In the states, women have the care they need using public funds…and the sky has not fallen.
Our guest blogger is Heidi Williamson, a Senior Policy Analyst for the Women’s Health and Rights program at the Center for American Progress.