By David Anderson
Everybody knows abortion became legal for all women with the “Roe v. Wade” Supreme Court decision in 1973. Fewer people know that in 1976, poor women lost that fundamental right to determine whether or when to have children. That is the year that the Hyde Amendment (named after Illinois Republican congressman Henry Hyde) was passed, which barred the use of certain federal funds to pay for abortions. It ended the provision of abortions for poor women through Medicaid, the federal health insurance program for low-income Americans. The amendment inspired the passage of other similar provisions applying to a number of other federal health care programs (for government employees, U.S. military personnel and their families, Peace Corps volunteers, Indian Health Service clients and federal prisoners).
It is not a permanent law but a “rider” that, in various forms, has been routinely attached to annual appropriations bills since 1976. President Clinton got an exception for rape and incest into the amendment in the 1990s.
President Obama has chosen to include the abortion coverage restrictions in his 2015 budget proposal. Earlier, he had agreed to extend the Hyde Amendment to the Affordable Care Act in order to secure conservative Democratic votes to pass Obamacare.
Jill Filipovic, writing in Britain’s Guardian, notes that these days, ”outside of the civil liberties organizations and women’s advocacy groups that are still pointing out the harms wrought by Hyde, there’s little mainstream political will to seriously challenge the law, even within the Democratic party. That Democrats so easily backed down on the Hyde amendment is a real shame, because that cowardice handed the GOP an effective road map for denying healthcare coverage for people or procedures they dislike.”
This is disturbing, since the Hyde Amendment has screwed up the lives of many poor women. Fortunately, activists in many communities around the country have intervened to create funds to pay for an abortion and for travel to a clinic or for an overnight stay in a motel near a clinic (for women who have to travel a great distance). Some activists provide a place to stay in their own homes.
For 20 years, these funds were largely isolated from each other. In 1993, 50 abortion fund activists from 22 funds in 14 different states came together to found the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF). The group also works to repeal the Hyde Amendment and similar laws on the national and state level. Today, the group represents 100 funds in the United States as well as Mexico, Canada and the United Kingdom. Some abortion funds have dozens of volunteers and some paid staff, while others are just run by one or two people.
This is crucial work because hundreds of thousands of women can’t come up with the money for the procedure. Abortions cost an average of $451 in the first trimester and can sometimes cost up to $3,000.
The National NNAF has a unique form of fund raising—a “National Abortion Access Bowl-a-Thon” held for many years throughout the month of April in dozens of cities. Participants sometimes dress up in weird outfits with team names like the “Ovary-chievers,” “At Your Cervix,” “Lara Croft’s Womb Raiders” and Texas’ “Puck Ferrys.” This whimsical attitude is refreshing because it challenges the slut-shaming stigma surrounding abortion.
This is a dangerous time for abortion rights. Since the major Republican gains in the 2010 elections, the Guttmacher Institute reports that there have been more than 200 anti-abortion measures passed in 30 states over the last three years.
The November elections are crucial. Will access to abortion be dramatically inhibited or will there be a pushback? It is time to demand that reproductive healthcare is a right, no matter how much money you make.
Join us on a DSA or YDS Bowlathon team, or organize your own: http://www.dsausa.org/bowl2014
Dave Anderson is a member of Colorado DSA.
Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership.