by Lauren Weiss, Summer 2013 NCJW Graduate Fellow
So said Senator Edward Brooke in 1977, voicing his opposition to the Hyde Amendment, which, at the time, was a proposal to unjustly withhold coverage of abortion in Medicaid.
His statement is perhaps truer today than it was then, as we have seen the fight against abortion rage in state houses across the country and almost never end well for women and girls—as well as transgender and gender nonconforming individuals—who need this care. Since the Hyde Amendment’s first passage in 1977, it has denied women enrolled in Medicaid equitable access to abortion coverage and has been applied to most federal health programs—making safe, legal abortion that much more difficult to obtain for federal workers, US servicewomen, and Native American women, among others.
I am too young to remember a time before Roe v. Wade, and too privileged to have ever worried about not being able to afford an abortion, or any other medical care, if I needed it. This makes me one of the lucky ones. At the launch of All Above All, a new campaign to repeal federal restrictions on coverage of abortion care, I heard the stories of women who were not so fortunate. Women who sold everything they owned, who went without food and medicine, just to pay for the abortion they needed. Women who, because it took so long to raise the money, were too far along in their pregnancies to terminate, and had to bear a child they did not want. Women who were not able to make their health care decisions with their partners and their medical providers in private because of politicians’ insistence on limiting their coverage for political ends.
No woman should be forced to carry an unintended pregnancy to term or become a parent before she is ready to do so. Today, politicians who maintain abortion coverage bans require that primarily of women who are poor. Middle- and upper-class women are often better able to pay out of pocket for the care they need, for the travel to an abortion clinic, and the time off of work. They may have insurance plans that cover abortion. (The Guttmacher Institute estimates that 30% of women who receive abortion care have private insurance and that the majority of private insurance plans do cover abortion.) Women with low incomes, though, who access health care through Medicaid, cannot get an abortion without coming up with hundreds or thousands of dollars that they could otherwise use to meet their and their family’s basic needs.
Activists, including thousands of NCJW members, have been speaking out for federal coverage of abortion since the Hyde Amendment first passed in 1977. All Above All seeks to elevate the public debate on the Hyde Amendment and other federal restrictions on abortion coverage. It puts advocates for reproductive justice on the offensive and centers on young people and people of color, two groups often excluded from the policy-making process but whose lives these bans impact in ways large and small. All Above All recaptures the debate that Senator Brooke was a part of forty years ago, when the Hyde Amendment was not established precedent but rather the idea of a man whose goal was to make all abortions illegal.
The Hyde Amendment should not be a part of US law. Women and girls deserve access, not just the right, to the safe and legal abortion care that the Supreme Court promised in Roe v. Wade. I, as a person with privilege, get that access. People of all incomes should get it, too.
To learn more, check out NCJW’s Talking Points on restoring equity in abortion access.
Photo above: NCJW’s Amy Cotton and Lauren Weiss at the “All Above All” Campaign