The Hyde Amendment, a federal rule that forbids taxpayer funds to be used for abortions except in specific cases, has recently turned 35 years old. Under the guise of “protecting” taxpayers who don’t believe women should have the right to decide when they are ready to be mothers, the Hyde rule has instead simply made the process of obtaining an abortion more onerous, more expensive and in some cases totally impossible for many poor women, while having nearly no effect on any other women in the country.
Conservatives call that a victory.
Thanks to Hyde, women who are on Medicaid cannot have their procedures paid for as they would any other health procedure, even though many of these women seeking abortion are doing so because they simply cannot afford to care for another child. Most are already mothers, many are jobless and all are struggling. Unless they live in a state that has locally overruled the ban on abortions being covered by Medicaid, they are stuck trying to finance the entire procedure themselves, turning to a charity abortion fund to assist in the expenses, or carrying to term and caring for another child that strains what little finances they have. At a time when the Republican Party is attempting to balance the budget on decreased funding to programs like WIC, food stamps, child care expenses and welfare, the Hyde amendment literally sends these women and their families spiraling further into poverty.
Still, some abortion procedures are allowed under the rules. Women who have been raped, or women who have their health threatened by a pregnancy can terminate and have Medicaid cover their costs. It’s a fairly narrow exception, and it is one the House GOP tried to make even narrower by redefining rape as only “forcible rape” earlier this session, but it is one loophole that does get used.
But how often? According to a new report only 37 percent of women who obtain abortions that would legally be covered under the Hyde rule actually get reimbursed for their procedural cost. “Ibis’ research has shown that in states where abortion coverage is limited to the Hyde Amendment exceptions, it is extremely challenging for providers to get reimbursed,” said Kelly Blanchard, principal investigator of the study and president of Ibis.
Nearly two thirds of the women in poverty who are getting medically necessary abortions or abortions because they were impregnated under sexual assault are forced to pay for an abortion out of pocket, or beg the provider or a charity for funding. Women whose lives may depend on ending a pregnancy, or who are victims of a horrible crime, are being forced to then go into debt or ask for help because the government wants a set of citizens to feel like their “hands are clean” when it comes to abortion.
Amanda Marcotte states, “The whole idea behind the “rape, incest, or medical emergency” exception is that the law can meaningfully divide women into virgin and whore categories, and allow the former to have the abortions they’ve earned by being good girls in pitiable situations (including women who fully intended to have their babies like good, Christian women, but who face health problems that prevent them from doing so) while making sure the filthy sluts who have sex for pleasure get their due punishment.” But women aren’t categories to be analyzed. Women have complex lives and situations, and for poor women the government’s need to control them is endangering them and their families.
The Hyde Amendment has to be renewed yearly. The House GOP is working on a bill to make it permanent. For the sake of all women, we simply cannot let that happen.