Next week marks the 40th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, a discriminatory policy that, in the words of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, “is designed to deprive poor and minority women of the constitutional right to choose abortion.” Representative Henry Hyde, the congressman who introduced the amendment in 1976, was brazen about the true intent of his law: “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.”
Put simply, this is discrimination in its simplest and most direct form. If we are serious about defending and expanding the reproductive freedom of all Americans, including low-income women and women of color, we must begin by repealing this anti-choice, anti-woman, anti-equality policy. Because at the end of the day, rights you can’t access aren’t rights at all, and options that are out of reach aren’t options at all.
There are millions of low-income women enrolled in Medicaid who cannot choose abortion because of the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment restricts insurance coverage of abortion so that it intentionally is not a right every woman can access. This policy harms women across the country who are struggling to make ends meet. It has 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. These restrictions on access to basic reproductive health care are all the more alarming amidst the continuing spread of the Zika virus, which has millions of Americans rightfully concerned about their ability to raise a healthy family.
Many low-income women and women of color already face significant obstacles when trying to access health care services. The Hyde Amendment adds to these difficulties by making access to abortion care significantly more challenging. By forcing these women to carry an unintended pregnancy to term, or to pay a large part of their income to cover the cost of an abortion, Congress has put even more barriers in the path of women and families attempting to climb out of poverty.
Women should have the autonomy to make decisions about their own bodies and their own lives, no matter where they live or how much is in their bank account. The Hyde Amendment, and the effort by Republicans in Congress to repeatedly reiterate and expand it by attaching the policy to must-pass legislation, is a direct attack on the ability for every American to access their fundamental rights.
At NARAL Pro-Choice America, we are fighting like hell to eradicate this policy, and we won’t stop until its ancient history. On this issue, we are proud to be led by a pro-choice coalition, All* Above All, which is responsible for shining a light on the discriminatory nature of this policy and its negative impact on women and families. As a woman of color from an immigrant family, I’m deeply appreciative of their work to make the Hyde Amendment a thing of the past.
Among their many achievements, the coalition has made space for elected officials to speak out loudly and proudly about repeal of the Hyde Amendment. And we have the power to change this discriminatory policy by electing pro-choice champions to office in 2016. We can start by electing Hillary Clinton as our next president. Throughout her campaign, she has established herself as a champion for women and our right to access abortion, regardless of zip code, income, race, or ethnicity. As an elected official, she has led the call to repeal the Hyde Amendment and spurred a national conversation about how this discriminatory policy impacts American families.
The Democratic Party echoed Secretary Clinton’s leadership when it adopted a party platform featuring the strongest protections for reproductive freedom in history, including a call for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment.
Now it’s time for elected officials across the country to end discrimination in abortion access by ending the Hyde Amendment. Five states already impose no restrictions on low-income women’s access to abortion coverage. Pro-choice voters can remove this harmful barrier for even more women calling for their leaders to be bold and end Hyde. By standing up against the Hyde Amendment and its continued discrimination, pro-choice leaders can prove that they understand that a woman’s decision to choose an abortion is a personal issue and not one for politicians to meddle in.
Sasha Bruce is the senior vice president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. Bruce was previously national campaign manager for the AFL-CIO, and served as SEIU’s deputy political director for public campaigns. She has worked on elections in Azerbaijan, Egypt, Palestine, Rwanda, Indonesia and Somalia.
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