Meet The Activists Fighting To Restore Low-Income Women’s Access To Affordable Abortion

Supporters of repealing the Hyde Amendment and restoring low-income women’s abortion coverage CREDIT: COURTESY OF ALL*ABOVE ALL
Supporters of repealing the Hyde Amendment and restoring low-income women’s abortion coverage CREDIT: COURTESY OF ALL*ABOVE ALL

This week marked the 37th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, the federal policy that prohibits taxpayer dollars from funding abortion services. For nearly 40 years, Hyde has prevented low-income women who rely on the Medicaid program from getting insurance coverage for abortion, ultimately ensuring that access to reproductive health care remains firmly divided along economic and racial lines. Social conservatives have rallied around their “no taxpaying funding for abortion!” battle cry, and there hasn’t been much political momentum for working to reverse this policy.

But now, a coalition of activists are trying to change that.

The All*Above All campaign is launching a series of grassroots and online campaigns that focus on repealing the Hyde Amendment. “The name All*Above All reflects our positive and powerful belief that each of us, not just some of us, must be able to make the important decision of whether to end a pregnancy,” the campaign explains on its website. “For too long, politicians have been allowed to deny a woman’s abortion coverage just because she is poor. We are standing up to say ‘enough.’ “

The new initiative is working in partnership with the National Network of Abortion Funds, a nonprofit organization that helps low-income women raise the money for abortion procedures they would not otherwise be able to afford. About 20 additional reproductive justice organizations have also signed on to support All *Above All’s efforts.

All*Above All is using several different tactics to pressure Congress to lift the bans that deny abortion coverage to poor Americans. It’s launched online petitions to drum up support for repealing Hyde. Activists on the ground are visiting college campuses to get young people involved with their efforts. The coalition worked with Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) to issue a congressional statement about the need to remove obstacles to low-income women’s reproductive choice. And this week, it started plastering ads on buses in the nation’s capital, noting that “women struggling to get by” shouldn’t be denied the opportunity to make their own health care decisions.

One of the bus advertisements that appeared in DC this week CREDIT: Courtesy of All*Above All
One of the bus advertisements that appeared in DC this week CREDIT: Courtesy of All*Above All

The activists working with the campaign believe that there’s a new “urgency” to address issues of economic justice in the context of abortion rights — particularly as a mounting number of state-level abortion restrictions are making it ncreasingly difficult for struggling women get the care they need. And they think there’s a new appetite for organizing around this issue.

“Over the past few years, a changing political climate has presented new possibilities for the abortion funding fight,” Stephanie Poggi, the executive director for the National Network of Abortion Funds, wrote in an op-ed in the Nation earlier this week. “The rising electorate of people of color, young people and white unmarried women, along with the Occupy movement, has shifted the terrain.”

According to polling commissioned by Poggi’s organization, people of color, Americans making less than $30,000 a year, young people, and white unmarried women all “object strongly” to the fact that access to abortion is currently largely based on income. Ultimately, the coalition wants to re-energize those diverse populations to continue pushing for the “long-term culture shift” that will eventually make it possible for women of all income levels to afford their abortions.

In recent years, that’s seemed like somewhat of a losing battle. Some women’s health organizations, and many pro-choice members of Congress, have been wary about wading into the fight to repeal Hyde because they believe that fighting for federal funding for abortion is too controversial. Mixing taxpayer dollars and abortion procedures is assumed to be a recipe for political disaster. But All*Above All firmly rejects that idea.

“All*Above All pushes back on the long-running urban legend that funding abortion coverage is some kind of political third rail,” Kierra Johnson, Choice USA’s executive director, explained in a recent statement about the coalition’s launch. “This campaign offers people a fresh approach to declare their support for bold action to change these policies.”