Every year since 1976, Congress has quietly passed the Hyde Amendment. This annual legislative provision prohibits federal Medicaid funds from covering abortions except in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment. Abortion is the only medical procedure banned from Medicaid coverage. You have probably never heard of Hyde despite its continual passage — there’s not much press coverage, little debate. And we, Students for Choice, want to change that.
The Hyde Amendment disproportionately impacts low-income women and women of color, who are also disproportionately more likely to seek abortion care. Because most immigrant women are excluded from federal Medicaid, this affects immigrant women — both citizens and non-citizens — as well. Thus, the Hyde Amendment constitutes another layer of uncertainty, complexity and difficulty affecting our country’s most vulnerable populations. In 1980, the Supreme Court upheld Hyde in Harris v. McRae; Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote in dissent, “The Hyde Amendment is designed to deprive poor and minority women of the constitutional right to choose abortion.” This is unjust.
The ethic of Hyde has flowed into other sectors of health care. The Hyde Amendment stipulations for coverage (rape, incest, and life endangerment) were only last year extended to Peace Corps volunteers who, since 1979, received no coverage whatsoever. Federal employees, residents of Washington, D.C. and federal prisoners have abortion coverage only in instances of rape, incest and life endangerment. The “global gag rule,” which has been enacted by Republican presidents since Ronald Reagan and rescinded by Democratic administrations, prevents any international organization receiving U.S. family planning funds from providing, counseling or referring patients to abortions. This, of course, is part of a political scheme to make abortion inaccessible for all women. Indeed, in 1977, Illinois Rep. Henry Hyde (R) (after whom the bill is named) said, “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.” Medicaid bans alone, however, are quite effective in limiting abortions: over seven million women of reproductive age (12 percent of all U.S. women in that age group) are Medicaid enrollees.
The impact of the Hyde Amendment is significant. Poor women, on average, take up to three weeks longer to obtain abortions than their wealthier counterparts, which, in turn, increases the price (First trimester aspiration abortions cost an estimated $300 to $950). By contrast, in the 17 states where state Medicaid funds are available for abortions, Medicaid enrollees obtain the procedure approximately one week earlier than women with incomes that are 100 to 149 percent of the federal poverty line, which renders them ineligible for Medicaid coverage. Additionally, studies have concluded that 18 to 35 percent of women who sought an abortion continued their pregnancies after Medicaid funding was cut. People who do raise the money necessary to obtain an abortion do so at costs to themselves and their families; they use money which otherwise would have been spent on food, clothing, utility bills and rent. Clearly, Hyde’s plan is working.
But we do not passively accept this injustice that treats economically vulnerable people as political pawns. Consequently, we have partnered with the Repeal Hyde Art Project to raise awareness about this all too often silenced issue. According to its website, “Since 2011, RHAP has produced 20 interactive displays and 100 sharable graphics to create dialogue and awareness about abortion access.” RHAP’s central image — a bird — is “representative of the self-determination, resistance, and resilience of people who confront and overcome barriers to abortion care everyday. It is also a positive symbol that represents the hope for change.” Today, April 20, we are taking our viewpoints and activism to the Diag with a traveling art gallery featuring hundreds of these birds to generate dialogue, understanding and ultimately change.
Why do we support this change? We feel it is not our place to make decisions about health care — and specifically about abortion — for other people. Denying insurance coverage effectively limits one’s options and ability to make the best decisions for his or her family. In other words, insurance coverage should provide for a whole host of medical procedures, including abortion, so that every person can make the best decisions for themselves based on their individual and/or familial circumstances. In addition, we do not believe that abortion access should be determined by income. Instead, we should mobilize the resources of this country to make sure every person is able to make personal decisions about health care.
Some will claim they do not want their tax dollars paying for abortions. We understand that many of us have strong feelings about abortion, but again, we do not feel it is our place to restrict health care options in any way. We trust individuals to make the best decisions for themselves, but often, these decisions can only be realized when the resources are in place that allow them to do so. Without these resources, Roe v. Wade is an empty promise. Just as the RHAP’s bird represents self-determination, we believe such self-determination is facilitated by affordable and accessible reproductive health care.
Whether or not you agree that people should have the right to make decisions about abortion regardless of their income, join us on the Diag today to create dialogue and awareness and change around this important issue.
Written by LSA junior Emma Maniere on behalf of Students for Choice.