Reproductive rights advocates nationwide are taking part in a week of action against the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion services and particularly hurts low-income women and women of color.
Friday marks the 40th anniversary of the anti-choice amendment, and in an op-ed on Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) recalled its legacy:
You can imagine my frustration with the Hyde Amendment, which made the legal right to abortion essentially meaningless for poor women and women of color by stripping it out of their insurance coverage. I am proud to say that we fought tooth-and-nail against the Hyde Amendment, but unfortunately we could not stop it.
In the nearly 40 years since Hyde was first passed, how many woman have been pushed into back alleys because of it? How many women were pushed further into poverty?
Forty years of Hyde has done terrible harm to women and families, and I'm more determined than ever to finish the work I started so long ago. However we feel about abortion, none of us, especially politicians, should be interfering with a woman's health care decisions just because she is poor. This is discrimination, plain and simple.
And that's just what it was meant to be. U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), the congressman who introduced the amendment in 1976, blatantly outlined the intent of his law upon introducing it: "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."
Indeed, Hyde's "detrimental and deeply unjust impact is felt by low-income women in general and low-income women of color in particular," wrote Guttmacher Institute president and CEO Ann Starrs at the Huffington Post this week:
The harmful impact of the Hyde Amendment is only alleviated for women who happen to live in one of the 15 states that use their own funds to provide Medicaid coverage of abortion. But the majority (60 percent) of women of reproductive age who are enrolled in Medicaid live in states that cover abortion only in very limited circumstances. This means some seven million women aged 15-44—including 3.4 million women living below the federal poverty level—are unable to use their Medicaid coverage for abortion services. Slightly more than half of these seven million women are women of color.
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What's more, added Sasha Bruce of NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Hyde Amendment "also inspired unnecessary restrictions on abortion access for other groups that receive health insurance through the government, including federal employees, Native American women, Peace Corps volunteers, and even women serving our country in the armed forces."
According to Starrs, "Overturning Hyde is central to repealing these Hyde-like restrictions."
That effort has more momentum now than ever before. New polling data (pdf) released this month from Hart Research Associates shows that three in four (76 percent) battleground voters agree (including 60 percent who strongly agree) with this statement: "However we feel about abortion, politicians should not be allowed to deny a woman's health coverage for it just because she's poor."
On top of that, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has campaigned "vocally and without apology" against Hyde, while for the first time, the Democratic Party formally adopted repealing the amendment as a priority in its platform this summer.
And in Congress, wrote Guttmacher's Starrs, "legislators are gathering support for proactive measures that aim to end political interference in the provision of abortion care, including the EACH Woman Act, which would restore public insurance coverage of abortion by lifting the Hyde Amendment and related federal coverage bans." (As the amendment is not permanent law, but comes in the form of a rider to federal budget bills, Congress has the opportunity to lift Hyde every year.)
Several petitions, like this one from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), are circulating in support of the EACH Woman Act; and close to a dozen cities nationwide have introduced or passed resolutions supporting lifting the bans that deny abortion coverage.
"Across the country, people are fired up and taking bold and creative action," said Destiny Lopez, co-chair of All* Above All, the pro-choice coalition leading the United for Abortion Coverage Week of Action. "We're ready to bring the shameful era of the Hyde Amendment to an end."
Follow the week of action online under the hashtag #BeBoldEndHyde: