Ending the Hyde Amendment Would Help Stanch Healthcare Oppression for Women of Color [Op-Ed]

By Ravina Daphtary Sep 29, 2020

For all of us who fight for reproductive justice, September has been a punch to the gut. In one week alone, we learned of hysterectomies forced on immigrant women in ICE detention; we confronted the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and watched conservatives nakedly work to consolidate power by ramming through a Supreme Court nomination. 

That’s to say nothing of the 200,000 person death toll from COVID-19, killing women of color at vastly disproportionate rates; the hellfire taking the West; the pandemic’s economic fallout; and a backdrop of white supremacy where Black people—including Black women and Black trans people—are incarcerated and murdered by police with no accountability or justice.

Wednesday, September 30, also marks 44 years since anti-abortion politicians in Congress first passed the Hyde Amendment, a federal policy that denies insurance coverage for abortion care for people enrolled in Medicaid, who are more likely to be women of color. And in the decades following, anti-abortion politicians have expanded the Hyde Amendment to also deny abortion coverage for Native and Indigenous communities, people in federal detention, federal employees and more.

Right now, only 16 states allow their Medicaid programs to cover abortion, and more than half of the 7.2 million women who live in states that prohibit coverage are women of color. Research tells us that restrictions on Medicaid coverage of abortions force 1 in 4 poor women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. When someone seeking an abortion is denied, they are more likely to fall into poverty, to be stuck in abusive relationships and to suffer from anxiety and have less self-esteem.  

Forty-four years of the Hyde Amendment teaches us that the crises of 2020 are nothing new. They are part of an entrenched history of racism and systemic oppression that has denied women of color agency over our own bodies, lives and destinies for centuries. The Hyde Amendment is part of this deeply troubling legacy—a policy where economics, gender and reproductive injustices converge, and where women of color are in the crosshairs.

Henry Hyde, the original architect of the Hyde Amendment, made it clear in 1976 that his goal was to target those enrolled in Medicaid—“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.”

The Trump-Pence administration has taken up Hyde’s baton and, for four years, has pushed reproductive health care—including abortion—out of reach; ignored the maternal mortality crisis that is disproportionately killing Black mothers; downplayed the impact of the pandemic; bolstered the racist killings of Black people dying at the hands of law enforcement; and further empowered a federal agency to terrorize immigrants.

To be clear, the impact of these policies is no accident. They are intended to deny us our dignity and the ability to make our own decisions free from stigma, coercion and interference. But a different future is possible.

For years, women of color have led a fierce, bold and united coalition of hundreds of activists across the country who have spent years talking to their friends, families, and neighbors about ending Hyde. Fearless elected officials in city councils, state legislatures, and in Congress have been fighting with us to end Hyde and its harms — by introducing the EACH Woman Act, championed by U.S. Representative Barbara Lee and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, in the House and Senate, which would end federal abortion coverage bans; by ending state bans on Medicaid coverage of abortion in places like Illinois and Maine; and by dedicating local dollars to supporting folks seeking abortions in cities like Austin and New York City.
rnAbortion funds have been raising money to cover the cost of abortion care since Hyde prohibits folks from using their health insurance to do so while helping to end the policy once and for all. 

And right now, the majority of national voters — 62 percent — believe Medicaid should cover the full range of pregnancy care, including abortion. 

Women of color have been fighting for ourselves and for each other for decades. And we will continue envisioning a better path for future generations—one where they don’t have to wake up and think that the state of our world couldn’t get any worse. 

Ravina Daphtary is the Director of State Strategies for All* Above All.