I just got back from the 2011 National Network of Abortion Funds organizing summit in Denver, Colorado. The weekend helped recharge my battery, and more importantly, gave me a lot of tangible tools that I can use to help get an abortion access fund started in Arizona.
The opening plenary session of the summit was about the Hyde Amendment and Health Care Reform. Stephanie Poggi of NNAF, Eesha Pandit of the New York Abortion Access Fund, and Marlene Gerber Fried from NNAF explained what the Hyde Amendment is, and why the repeal of Hyde needs to be a priority for the pro-choice movement.
What is the Hyde Amendment?
The Hyde Amendment was passed in 1976, and was only one of 200 anti-abortion bills that were passed in the backlash against Roe v. Wade. The Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funds from being used to pay for abortion. The anti-choice members of Congress never actually believed that they would get the law passed because the bill was a clear case of reaching too far. The Hyde Amendment initially had no exceptions, not even in cases of rape or incest, or to protect the life of the woman. The bill received 25 roll call votes, and exceptions for rape and the woman’s health had to be added to Hyde in order for the bill to pass.
During the Congressional testimony on the Hyde Amendment, Henry Hyde blatantly admitted that he didn’t want any women to have access to abortion, but he knew he couldn’t have everything he wanted so he focused on restricting abortion access for the women he knew he could effect: low-income women.
Marlene Gerber Fried argues that, “There is an important lesson to be learned here. We must continue to keep banging against the wall, because the wall is not so rigid.” It may take us a long time to get Hyde repealed, but we must put it at the front of our organizing strategy because tenacity and persistence are what made Hyde a reality in the first place.
The Hyde Amendment divided the pro-choice movement, and those divisions still exist today. Hyde gave people an easy out for saying that they don’t support abortion rights for all women. Access is always the issue. If women can’t access abortion, it doesn’t matter whether abortion is legal or not.
Hyde Enters the Health Care Reform Debate
During the health care reform debate, the Hyde Amendment and abortion access became a wedge issue. The Affordable Care Act was passed because there are currently 52 million uninsured Americans. There are three major changes that will result because of health care reform.
- Uninsured Americans will receive health care coverage through the creation of health care exchanges.
- Medicaid coverage will be expanded to cover Americans whose income is 130% of the poverty line.
- The insurance industry will face more regulation.
Between 2011 and 2014, states will have to figure out how they will implement the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.
Abortion is not going to be covered by the insurance exchange programs, no thanks to the Stupak Amendment. As a result of the Nelson Amendment, private insurance companies will only be able to offer abortion coverage if their recipients pay extra for abortion coverage. This completely severs abortion from health care as a whole. The result has been that in the last year alone, states across the country have passed an overwhelming number of abortion restrictions, and five states have banned private insurance companies from even being able to offer abortion coverage.
Lessons to Be Learned
There are five lessons that we can take away from the Hyde Amendment and health care reform debate.
First of all, we need to stay true to the human reality that drives our pro-choice activism.
Second, we need to resist the fragmentation of issues in our movement, because there is no such thing as a single issue. When women call abortion funds to ask for assistance paying for their abortions, they often talk about lack of affordable housing, low-wage jobs, lack of child care, and a whole host of other issues.
Third, we need to understand what we are fighting for in the pro-choice movement. Abortion is not the issue. The fetus is not the issue. This is a battle about the self-determination of women over the course of their lives.
Fourth, we need to be bold visionaries, especially when it looks like we can’t win anything. We should stop asking for less and refuse to let the agenda be shaped by our fear of losing. As Gerber Fried pointed out, “the arc of history does not bend toward justice by itself. It takes many hands.”
Finally, abortion is health care. We have a moral imperative to demand that poor women get the same health care as everyone else. Until economic justice is incorporated into our movement, we are going to be fighting the same battles over and over again.
For more information about the effects of the Hyde Amendment, check out this article by Dr. Leroy Carhart over on RH Reality Check.
Serena is a freelance writer who enjoys baking, protesting, and playing with little dogs.