On Wednesday, the Center for Reproductive Rights held a briefing on Capitol Hill to release their new report, Whose Choice? How the Hyde Amendment Harms Poor Women. The report focuses on interviews with low-income women who were faced with obstacles to abortion as a result of Hyde's provisions. Nancy Northup, President of the Center for Reproductive Rights, described the report as an attempt to personalize and put a face to the many women who have been negatively affected by Hyde's regulations.
The Hyde Amendment, passed in 1974, prohibits the use of federal funding for abortion with few exceptions. This means that the 1 in 10 American women who use Medicaid do not have healthcare coverage for abortion services. Though groups like the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) and the National Abortion Federation work to provide some private funding for poor and low-income women seeking abortions, they do not have the means to assist all women affected by Hyde, according to NNAF Executive Director Stephanie Poggi. Poggi, one of the event's speakers, pointed out that because of Hyde, poor women lose their right to decide their own reproductive future. Their decisions are, in effect, made by the government. The Center for Reproductive Rights states that over 1 million women have been denied the exercise of their reproductive rights since Hyde's inception.
I attended the event and was able to hear a number of speakers call for the repeal the Hyde Amendment in order to ensure reproductive rights are available to all women, not only those who can afford them. Each speaker addressed specific arguments in support of this goal. Northup discussed the fact that the cost of an abortion procedure increases as a pregnancy progresses, putting many women in a situation where the cost of their procedure has increased, sometimes dramatically, by the time they have saved enough money to undergo it. She also condemned the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," currently in Congress, which would restrict private insurance coverage for abortions and place a permanent ban on all federal funding that goes toward abortions.
Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) and Mike Quigley (D-Illinois) spoke at the briefing and expressed their support for repealing the law. Rep. Schakowsky emphasized the “difficult year” it has been for abortion rights, referencing the struggles of pro-choice advocates in regards to the Stupak Amendment and the healthcare bill. She urged advocates to “take the offensive” in the debate over abortion rights. “Don’t antagonize. Organize,” Schakowsky said, encouraging advocacy mobilization and the need for more young voices in the abortion debate.
Terry Salas Merritt, the Vice President of Whole Woman’s Health, spoke about the need for Medicaid abortion coverage to enable actual reproductive choice for poor women, who may desperately resort to dangerous black market abortion products. These products are often ineffective and can cause other, sometimes serious, health problems.
The final speaker, Brittany Mostiller, is a member of the My Voice, My Choice Leadership Group of the Chicago Abortion Fund. Mostiller relayed an especially profound story about her own struggle to get an abortion as a low-income woman with children. She faced difficulty in scheduling an appointment, rejection at the most affordable clinic due to her stage of pregnancy, and threats of being fired for missing work in the process of both scheduling and undergoing the procedure.
You can learn more about the Center's report and how to take action on its website. To learn more about the fight to repeal the Hyde Amendment, check out the NNAF's Hyde - 30 Years is Enough! campaign.