By Jaimie Just, Reproductive Freedom Fellow
Let’s not kid ourselves about the true intention of anti-choice politicians: to ban all abortions. The fact that abortion is legal in the United States does not mean that it is affordable. Often, there is disconnect between a woman’s choice and what is economically feasible.
Racial equality and economic justice are intimately linked with reproductive health equity. Significant economic barriers deny women, especially those who are struggling to make ends meet, their constitutional right to choose abortion. Public funding, such as Medicaid, is used as a proxy for overturning Roe v. Wade. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote in his dissenting opinion in Harris v. McRae that “the Hyde Amendment is designed to deprive poor and minority women of the constitutional right to choose abortion.”
The Hyde Amendment goes against the core American values of liberty and fair and equal treatment under the law by banning federal insurance or health plans, including Medicaid, from covering abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the woman. Politicians must not be allowed to interfere with personal health care decisions. All women need access to broad range of reproductive health services, including contraceptives, maternity care, and – yes – abortions. This is common sense.
While there are differing opinions regarding abortion, it is not my place, or the government’s, to decide for someone else whether or not she should get an abortion. It is better that she makes that personal decision with her family and her faith.
Studies have shown that abortion coverage restrictions disproportionately affect certain segments of our society. Often, those who are already underrepresented – such as women of color and women living in poverty – see their right to comprehensive reproductive healthcare, including abortions, curtailed. This is not fair and equal treatment under the law!
Considering the fact that 69% of women who get abortions are economically disadvantaged and nearly 1 in 7 women of reproductive age (15-44) is insured through the Medicaid program, many women are left to pay for abortions out-of-pocket. The high costs of the procedure put some women in the difficult position of choosing between having an abortion or paying the rent and putting food on the table for their families. When Medicaid restrictions on abortion force one in four poor women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, how can we say that they have a choice?
In Washington State, the cost of an abortion can range from $500 up to $10,000 depending how advanced the pregnancy is. Luckily, Washington is one of 15 states that provide funding to bridge the gap left by Hyde restrictions on Medicaid coverage of abortion. What about the women who live in the other 35 states?
The Hyde Amendment can and should be repealed in order to guarantee reproductive justice for all women. Repealing the Hyde Amendment would reinforce women’s moral agency in making healthcare decisions. When people can plan if and when to have children, it is good for them and for society as a whole.
To reiterate, we mustn’t be fooled into believing that those who would outlaw abortion are simply trying to protect women’s health and lower abortion rates. Anti-choice positions regarding sex education, contraceptives, as well as the recent Hobby Lobby decision from the Supreme Court show a remarkable lack of coherence and do a poor job concealing efforts to control the lives of women through legislation.
Congressman Henry Hyde (R-IL) said it himself in 1977, “I would certainly like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody from having an abortion: a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the [Medicaid] bill.” So, unable to control the sexuality of all women in our society, women’s health opponents settle for controlling the most vulnerable because, you know, their rights are somehow less important than those of their wealthier counterparts.
A movement is brewing around the country, sights set firmly on Hyde Amendment restrictions on abortion coverage. The group All Above All is traveling cross-country to various cities gathering signatures for a petition that would extend federal funding to include abortion. Local city councils are taking part as well, proposing resolutions supporting insurance coverage of abortion. Reproductive health equity is a necessary step in the fight for racial equality and economic justice, so let’s #EndCoverageBans now!
Jaimie Just is a Reproductive Freedom Fellow at NARAL Pro-Choice Washington.