Congress may be on a month-long break, but that hasn’t stopped reproductive rights activists across the country from laying the groundwork for real legislative change. A diverse coalition of women’s health, racial justice, and family planning advocates are currently traveling more than 10,000 miles to gather signatures for a petition urging lawmakers to lift the abortion bans currently in place for low-income women.
“All women should have equal ability to make their own decisions about abortion even if they are poor,” the petition reads. “We ask our members of Congress to affirm their support to lift all restrictions on coverage of abortion care, so that every woman can make personal decisions that are best for her circumstances, without political interference.”
Thanks to the 37-year-old Hyde Amendment, the federal policy that prohibits taxpayer dollars from funding abortion services, the low-income women who rely on the Medicaid program often have no affordable options for ending a pregnancy. Hyde, which has spawned similar restrictions on the state level and in other government programs, ensures that abortion access has been firmly divided along economic and racial lines for nearly as long as it’s been legal in this country. However, social conservatives’ vehement resistance to taxpayer-funded abortion has stalled any political momentum for reversing the policy. In fact, government support for women’s abortion services is often referred to as a political “third rail,” something that’s too controversial for lawmakers to ever talk about.
But now, All Above All — a coalition founded last year that’s comprised of more than 40 organizations — is hoping to shift that narrative. Its “Be Bold” road trip, which made its first stop in Los Angeles on Saturday and will travel to 11 additional cities over the next month, seeks to highlight the broad base of support for ensuring all women’s access to insurance coverage for abortion. The fully interactive bus includes a signature wall for people to add their names to the cause, a “selfie” booth, and a quiz game. Each stop along the tour will include a rally and a reading of abortion stories.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Joshua Cahn
“This is an opportunity for us to be doing more than just defending against restrictions, but to actually work to move forward,” Kierra Johnson, the executive director for URGE, one of the national groups helping to lead the All Above All coalition, said in an interview with ThinkProgress. “I think people have been waiting for something new, bold, and powerful. This is not your mother’s pro-choice movement!”
“There are lots of ways that choice is talked about it, and economic justice, this idea that women shouldn’t be dependent on what’s in their bank account, isn’t always one of them,” Kalpana Krishnamurthy, the policy director for Forward Together, a reproductive justice group in California that’s partnering with the campaign, added.
While some Americans may not have heard of the Hyde Amendment, or may not be moved by calls to reform Medicaid policy, some of the more personal messages from the All Above All campaign could effectively resonate with them. The coalition is framing the push to restore low-income women’s access to abortion in terms of justice, fairness, and the right to affordable health insurance. It’s a framework that Johnson says is reaching a new constituency of people who are fired up to fight for change, and who will take their concerns straight to their representatives in Congress.
Along with local and grassroots leaders, at least five members of U.S. Congress have agreed to participate in the campaign when the bus comes to their hometowns. The tour will end in Washington, DC, where activists will lobby for federal action to roll back the Hyde Amendment.
“We plan to bring this conversation to the Hill and really share what we saw on the ground across the United States. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some federal pushes around legislation,” Johnson said. “This issue of abortion access for low-income women is a key place where issues of economic injustice, racism, and gender oppression come together. We think it’s going to galvanize a new constituency of people.”
Indeed, reproductive justice organizations’ internal polling has found that repealing the Hyde Amendment is an issue that already has a lot of support among young people, people of color, and low-income Americans. Although getting pro-choice legislation through Congress is no easy feat, particularly considering the fact that the GOP-controlled House has recently passed several national abortion restrictions, activists insist that the American people are ready to hold their lawmakers accountable to a broader vision of justice.
“Over the past two years, when access has come under attack, people have stood up. You saw that with the Texas filibuster and you saw it with how pissed off people were about Hobby Lobby,” Krishnamurthy said. “People are fired up about access to abortion and birth control. The bus tour will harness some of that action.”