“My body, my choice” is a privilege for those whose insurance provides coverage for abortions (assuming that their employers don’t object), or who can afford to pay the expense out of pocket.That privilege doesn’t extend to women who receive Medicare or Children’s Healthcare Insurance Program benefits, the dependents of federal employees, dependents of military service members, Peace Corps volunteers, clients of Indian Health Service, and women in federal prisons, including immigration detention centers. As many as 20 million women are impacted not just by the 1976 Hyde Amendment (which has been reauthorized every year since), but by additional restrictions imposed by Congress in the early 1980s.
On July 10, Congressional Reps. Barbara Lee of California, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, and Diana DeGette of Colorado, introduced H.R.2972, the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act of 2015. Under the EACH Woman Act, access to safe, legal abortions would be restored for women impacted by the Hyde Amendment and other federal restrictions. It is the first time such legislation has been introduced in two decades.
Poor women have been pawns in the congressional debate over abortion since the procedure became legal nationwide. For opponents of abortion, public funding has been a proxy for overturning Roe. As Hyde told his colleagues during a congressional debate over Medicaid funding in 1977, “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.” For prochoice leaders, on the other hand, public funding was a matter of fundamental fairness and equal protection under the law. “If we now restrict or ban Medicaid funding for abortions, the government will accomplish for poor women indirectly what the 1973 [Supreme Court] opinion expressly forbade it to do directly…a right without access is no right at all,” said then-Sen. Edward Brooke (R-MA), speaking in opposition to the Hyde Amendment during one of the early congressional debates.
It still is a matter of fundamental fairness. When the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold the Hyde Amendment, Thurgood Marshall called it correctly in his dissent when he wrote:
“The Hyde Amendment is designed to deprive poor and minority women of the constitutional right to choose abortion.”
According to recent polling done for All* Above All, the majority of voters agree with Justice Marshall:
- Eighty-six percent (86%) of voters agree (including 68% who strongly agree)
with the statement “however we feel about abortion, politicians should not be
allowed to deny a woman’s health coverage because she is poor.” There is
broad consensus on this point across age groups (including 90% of voters age
18 to 34 and 84% of voters 65 and over) and partisanship, with 85% of
independents and 79% of Republicans in agreement with 92% of Democrats.
- The belief that a woman’s income should not affect her health coverage persists
when the health service in question is abortion. Three in four (74%) voters
agree that “as long as abortion is legal, the amount of money a woman has or
does not have should not prevent her from being able to have an abortion.”
Majorities of Democrats (85%), independents, (75%), and Republicans (62%)
agree on this point.
The poll found that 56 percent of voters favored a bill that would require Medicaid to cover all pregnancy-related care, including abortion. Forty percent opposed such a bill.
- Seven in 10 voters agree that “in the long run, it makes good sense that health
programs for low-income women cover birth control and abortion—not just
childbirth—because when people can plan when to have children, it’s good for
them and their families.”
It is also good for the federal budget, as prenatal care, childbirth, pediatric care, and welfare costs four to five times what Medicaid would pay for an abortion.As a result of the Hyde Amendment, it is estimated that over 1 million women who can least afford it have been forced to bear children because a vocal minority managed to incorporate their right wing religious ideology into law. The law has pushed poor women even deeper into poverty.
No statistics show how little forced birthers care about life like those of childhood poverty in America. Of all American children under the age of 18, 22 percent live in poverty. At 35 percent, that rate is even higher for Latino children. It climbs even higher for African-American children, with the figure hitting 38 percent. According to UNICEF, the United States has one of the highest childhood poverty rates in the world.
It is beyond unfair that the most vulnerable populations in this country, those least likely to be able to pay out of their own pockets, are those who are refused access to rights that other American women enjoy. Just because they are poor.
In 1857, Frederick Douglass wrote:
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
“As long as abortion is legal, the amount of money a woman has or does not have should not prevent her from being able to have an abortion.” So say 74 percent of American voters. Isn’t it time we took back our rights from the forced birther tyrants who have restricted them for so long?