There is a new generation of activists rising up and they are looking for leaders who are bold, for champions who are unafraid to buck convention and stand up for what is right. They want elected officials to address their needs and the needs of their communities. They want action not platitudes. And opposing the Hyde Amendment, believe it or not, just might give lawmakers that opening.
The Hyde Amendment, a law that withholds Medicaid coverage for abortion care from low-income women, turns 37 today. Spurred by the purported rationale that taxes should not go toward abortion, the measure has not only been expanded over the course of nearly four decades to deny abortion coverage to virtually any woman who receives health insurance or care from the government; it has become one of the most entrenched policies of all time.
Conventional wisdom deems any challenge to the Hyde Amendment dead on arrival, a political nonstarter. After all, the thinking goes, mix the issue of abortion with taxes and you have a potentially radioactive (Molotov?) cocktail.
But it is time for conventional wisdom to change. It is time for Members of Congress who support abortion rights to work to lift all limits on insurance coverage for abortion care. And here is why.
The 2012 election showed us that the gender gap is alive and well. One out of three voters was a woman who voted for President Obama. But what’s been glossed over in much of the analysis was that it wasn’t just a gender gap that won Obama re-election; it was a women-of-color gap.
Obama’s margin among African-American women was 96 to 3 and it was 76 to 23 among Latinas. In contrast, Obama lost white women 42 to 56. And the voting strength of women of color is only going to continue to grow. While they currently comprise 18 percent of the population, they are projected to reach 27 percent by 2050 – and 54 percent of all women. They also are voting in higher numbers. For instance, from 2004 to 2008, turnout among Asian American women increased 17 percent.
As it so happens, women of color also are unduly affected by the Hyde Amendment and similar anti-abortion restrictions. Because they are disproportionately poor, they are more likely to be enrolled in a government-managed health plan and more likely to experience a wide range of health disparities, including higher rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion. What this means is they are more likely to need abortion care, less likely to be able to pay for it out of pocket, and more likely to get their insurance or care from a program that excludes abortion coverage.
Furthermore, as the Hyde policy has spread from government health programs to the private insurance market, it has denied coverage for a basic reproductive health care need to more and more women. And these numbers will only increase when Obamacare goes into full effect this coming January.
Nearly one in seven women of reproductive age is currently enrolled in Medicaid; but when Medicaid expands under the Affordable Care Act, even more women will be directly affected by the Hyde Amendment. And 23 states have already applied Hyde-like bans on abortion coverage to their new private insurance marketplaces.
It is becoming increasingly clear that these restrictions are linked to other right wing efforts to make abortion inaccessible, if not illegal. Such efforts include shutting down abortion clinics through costly overregulation; subjecting women to invasive and medically unnecessary procedures before receiving an abortion; and banning abortion at different stages of pregnancy, including before a woman might even know she’s pregnant.
It’s time we realize that some politicians want to ban all abortions in the US, but they can’t. So instead they have tried to make abortion unaffordable and out of reach. But regardless of how one may feel about abortion, politicians shouldn’t be able to interfere with a woman’s health care coverage just because she’s poor.
That is why women and men across this country are uniting through a new campaign called “All* Above All” to tell Congress to be bold and lift all bans on abortion coverage.
When it comes to the most important decisions in life, such as whether to become a parent, it is vital that a woman be able to consider all her options and make the best decision for her circumstances, regardless of how little money she makes. And the good news for lawmakers who agree with that basic principle is that the shifting demographics in our country mean that, when it comes to the Hyde policy, what is right and what is popular may soon be one in the same.
Jessica Arons is the President and CEO of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project and Eveline Shen is the Executive Director of Forward Together. Both organizations are sponsors of the All* Above All campaign.
[“Stock Photo: Portrait Of Beautiful Confident African American Woman, Closeup.” on Shutterstock]