It has been 40 years since abortion was made legal across the country, a move that was supposed to have made the decision to end a pregnancy one that was open to all pregnant people, regardless of the amount of money she has. Yet thanks to the Hyde Amendment, which went into effect just three years later, abortion remains almost as inaccessible for poor women as it did before it Roe v. Wade was ever decided.
Thirty seven years ago, the Hyde Amendment forbade the use of Medicaid when it came to paying for an abortion. Introduced by Illinois Republican Rep. Henry Hyde, the amendment declared that when it came to termination of a pregnancy, if a person was poor and reliant on Medicaid, she could not use her insurance to pay for a procedure as she would for any other health care, leaving her to either pay out of pocket or carry the pregnancy to term and give birth.
“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,” testified Hyde. “Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the [Medicaid] bill.”
For nearly four decades, the amendment has forced poor women to make a choice: use every last resource available to her to end an unwanted pregnancy, or give birth. Each woman forced to give birth against her will simply because she lacked the money to terminate is seen as a victory to the anti-abortion movement. “Conservative estimates of the number of unborn babies saved by taxpayer funding bans since the Hyde Amendment was first adopted top one million lives!” cheered Carol Tobias, President of National Right to Life Committee, in a 2012 report at LifeNews.
Those “victories” have come at the expense of the person carrying the child, of course. Of course, not all of them even had a choice in becoming pregnant in the first place. Throughout the 37 years in which the Hyde Amendment has been in effect, the exceptions in which an abortion has been allowed and paid for has varied. Some years, those who have been impregnated as a result of sexual assault have been allowed to use their insurance to pay for an abortion. In other years, at the whim of Congress, that exception has been denied. It’s an inconsistency that has frustrated anti-abortion activists, who are currently working passionately to have rape exceptions removed from all legislation restricting access to abortion, with the Hyde Amendment first in line.
Why Hyde? Because, as Rep. Hyde himself would say, that’s the only vehicle they have.
For those who are poor and pregnant, the hurdles to an allegedly legal health procedure are often too high for them to clear. Many take so long to gather the money they need that they have run out of time because of gestational limits. A large percentage of those who technically should be able to get their procedures covered by Hyde will end up not having it reimbursed, a common place occurrence that leaves more and more providers uncomfortable about performing abortions on Medicaid recipients in the first place.
The onslaught on the rights of poor women increases year by year, state by state. In an unprecedented move, the state of Iowa ruled that for poor women on Medicaid seeking an abortion because of rape, incest, her health or because the fetus has a genetic anomaly, the governor himself will get to decide on a case by case basis whether or not the cost of the procedure should be reimbursed.
The rule, which provides no guidance for providers in the state, forced the University of Iowa to decide to simply perform abortions due to genetic defect without reimbursement, rather than be left at the governor’s whims.
For so much of the population to be controlled by one bill is unfathomable. Even more unfathomable is that this is an amendment that is renewed year after year, with almost no thought and far too little pushback.
Make that end. Repeal Hyde. Give those who are poor the same right to decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy that those with means are able to have. No one should ever be forced to remain pregnant and give birth against her will simply because she didn’t have the money to make her own choice.
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