September 25 marked the start of a week of action by reproductive rights advocates to raise awareness about the Hyde amendment, its anti-choice legacy, and recent efforts to catalyze support for its repeal.
The United for Abortion Coverage Week of Action, led by All* Above All’s coalition of reproductive rights activists, not only demarcates the 40th anniversary of the oppressive anti-choice measure’s adoption, but also comes at a significant time politically. Despite the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt -- which struck down medically unnecessary anti-choice restrictions on abortion access in Texas -- right-wing media and anti-choice politicians have continued to push misinformation about abortion and have doubled down on their support for the Hyde amendment.
During this week of action -- and beyond -- here’s what the media needs to know about the Hyde amendment, its legacy, and the efforts of reproductive rights activists to eliminate the anti-choice funding restriction once and for all.
The Hyde amendment is a restriction on federal funding for abortion services. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), this restriction -- commonly called the Hyde amendment after its first sponsor, Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) -- was first passed as a budgetary rider “to the fiscal 1977 Medicaid appropriation.” Every year since, “the Hyde Amendment has been reenacted” to prevent the use of federal Medicaid funds from covering abortion services, except in case of rape or incest or to protect the life of the mother.
Because of its restrictions, the Hyde amendment has created a significant barrier for low-income patients attempting to access safe and legal abortion care. Considering the number of financial and logistical barriers women already face in trying to access abortion, the Hyde amendment adds an additional and unnecessary complication.
In January, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton decided to “publicly do battle against Hyde,” by making the repeal of the anti-choice restriction a top priority, Rebecca Traister wrote in New York magazine. Beyond being the first presidential nominee to publicly speak against the Hyde amendment, Clinton “dropped a bomb on the political conversation about abortion” by drawing attention to “the relationship between reproductive-health-care access and economic inequality,” Traister argued.
The Democratic Party also formally adopted repealing the Hyde amendment as a priority in its platform -- marking the first time a major political party has targeted the anti-choice restriction on this scale.
Although Clinton and the Democratic Party are drawing much-needed attention to the problematic Hyde amendment, the renewed focus on its impact did not originate with them. Instead, as All* Above All co-chair Jessica González-Rojas explained to The Guardian, the credit belongs with “Women of color leaders” who “have been calling for the repeal of Hyde for decades when most mainstream reproductive rights groups did not prioritize this issue.”
Similarly, ThinkProgress reported in early September, although Hillary Clinton’s commitment to repealing the Hyde amendment “ quickly shot the controversial idea into mainstream political conversations,” it has been the “end goal of dozens of resilient reproductive justice organizations that have been pushing to repeal the Hyde Amendment for decades.”
Now, during this week of action, All* Above All has mobilized a grass-roots coalition involving “68 organizations in 38 states" working "to show support for lifting bans on abortion coverage for low-income women.” Reproductive rights advocates are not the only ones drawing attention to the Hyde amendment during the election, however.
More recently, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump released a letter announcing that he has a new “pro-life coalition,” led by known anti-choice extremist Marjorie Dannenfelser. As part of the announcement, Trump committed himself to making the Hyde amendment “permanent law” in order to prevent “taxpayers from having to pay for abortions.” Trump also promised to defund Planned Parenthood and ban abortion after 20 weeks on the faulty premise that a fetus can feel pain by that point in gestation.
Right-wing media have a history of not only attacking Planned Parenthood, but also spreading misinformation about the Hyde amendment and federal funding for other reproductive health care services.
For example, during the December 22 edition of Fox News’ The Five, co-host Eric Bolling reacted to co-host Dana Perino’s statement that “defunding Planned Parenthood” is problematic politically by arguing that funding for abortion services should be “separate” from funding for “women’s services.” Although Bolling did not explicitly name the Hyde amendment, he pushed for Republicans to "defund the abortion part of Planned Parenthood” and set up a “Chinese wall” between abortions and Planned Parenthood’s other services.
Right-wing media have also misled the public about how much of Planned Parenthood’s resources are strictly devoted to abortion, dismissing the many other types of health care the organization provides to both women and men. In July 2015, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and Fox co-host Andrea Tantaros advocated for defunding Planned Parenthood because, as O’Reilly argued, he did not want “tax dollars going” to abortion providers. Tantaros supported this statement and repeated the myth that because Americans have ample alternatives to Planned Parenthood, “taxpayer dollars should not have to go” to abortion providers.
Beyond the Hyde amendment, right-wing media have also spread misinformation about the nature of Title X family planning funds that are used by providers like Planned Parenthood to supply necessary reproductive health care such as contraception, testing for sexually transmitted infections, and cancer screenings. Right-wing media have argued that Planned Parenthood is an inappropriate recipient of Title X funds, because the organization is incapable of providing wider reproductive health care. In reality, Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers are an essential resource for reproductive health care in many communities.
As a result, in September 2016, the Obama administration proposed a rule that would stop anti-choice lawmakers from diverting federal family planning money -- distributed to states through Title X of the Public Health Service Act -- away from Planned Parenthood. As The New York Times explained, “The rule would make clear that state governments must apportion Title X funds based on a provider’s ability to perform family planning services effectively -- not on other factors like whether a provider also offers abortions.” In April, the Obama administration had “warned officials in all 50 states” that blocking Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid funding is likely “out of compliance with federal law,” according to The Washington Post.
Nevertheless, right-wing media alleged that the proposed rule would ensure that there are “millions more in taxpayer dollars for the nation’s abortion market leader at the expense of women’s health.”
Even when not discussing the Hyde amendment or abortion funding, right-wing media have frequently misrepresented the severity of anti-choice restrictions and downplayed the ways these requirements have made abortion and other reproductive health services less accessible.
This is an issue that has spread beyond just right-wing media. In a recent study, Media Matters analyzed 14 months of evening cable news discussion about reproductive rights and found that media frequently ignore or underestimate the impact of economic barriers when talking about abortion access. In this study we found that only eight news segments even briefly mentioned the economic barriers women face to accessing abortion.
1. Low-Income Patients
Low-income patients and their families are one of the primary groups affected by the Hyde amendment’s restriction on funding for abortion services.
The Guttmacher Institute found in a July 2016 study that the “number of women potentially affected by the Hyde Amendment is substantial” given the significant number of women dependent on federally subsidized medical services. According to Guttmacher’s director of public policy, Heather Boonstra, for women between 15 and 33 who depend on Medicaid, 60 percent live in places (35 states and D.C.) “that do not cover abortion, except in limited circumstances.” As a result, approximately 7 million women are potentially impacted by Hyde’s restrictions on federal funding for abortion care.
In January, Slate’s Christina Cauterucci highlighted Clinton’s focus on repealing the Hyde amendment because of its disproportionate impact on low-income patients. According to Clinton, abortion is not accessible enough “'as long as we have laws on the book like the Hyde Amendment making it harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.'” Cauterucci concluded that if Clinton succeeded in making the repeal of Hyde a central issue in the campaign, it would be “a long-overdue step toward addressing the intersection between economic insecurity and reproductive health.”
The National Women’s Law Center explained in 2015 that “because of the high cost of the procedure, low-income women are often forced to delay obtaining an abortion,” which increases the out-of-pocket costs. Thus the Hyde amendment exacerbates the substantial financial disadvantage low-income persons already face in obtaining abortion care.
2. Women Of Color
Women of color -- especially black women, Latinas, and Native Americans -- suffer a particularly disparate impact from the Hyde amendment’s ban on federal abortion coverage.
According to a September 2016 research brief from Ibis Reproductive Health and All* Above All on the impact of out-of-pocket costs on abortion access, “Because low-income women and women of color are disproportionately covered by public health insurance programs, restrictions in coverage increase their socioeconomic disadvantage.”
This assessment matched the findings of the National Women’s Law Center’s study, which noted that women of color were not only “more likely than White women to face financial barriers when seeking abortions” but also “more likely to experience unintended pregnancy, due to racial, ethnic, gender, and economic healthcare inequalities.”
In 2015 the National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda reported that “black women have more than double the unintended pregnancy rate of white women,” which is particularly concerning given that “the risk of death from pregnancy complications was nearly three and a half times higher for Black women than for white women.”
According to a recent Guttmacher Institute fact sheet, black women do experience higher rates of unintended pregnancy and more frequently elect to abort. Think Progress’ Kira Lerner explained these numbers simply reflect “the difficulties that many women in minority communities face in accessing high-quality contraceptive services and in using their chosen method of birth control consistently and effectively.” Lerner noted black women also experience a “racial disparity … for other health measures including rates of diabetes, breast and cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infections.”
Latinas’ access to reproductive care is significantly impacted not just by the Hyde amendment but also by the financial and logistical barriers created by anti-choice restrictions in states, like Texas, that have a high percentage of Latinos.
According to a joint op-ed from the executive directors of Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, and Voto Latino, “The first woman known to die of an unsafe illegal abortion after the Hyde Amendment was a Latina” named Rosie Jimenez, who “died from septic shock in October 1977” months after the Hyde amendment first went into effect. Since then, the op-ed explained, the Hyde amendment has continued to have “an especially devastating effect” on Latina communities, due to their high national rates of Medicaid enrollment.
In an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of abortion provider Whole Woman’s Health, NLIRH explained the material consequences of barriers created by state anti-choice restrictions, like Texas’ HB 2. NLIRH argued that due to the “significant geographic, transportation, infrastructure, and cost challenges” Latinas already face when seeking medical care, clinic closures caused by Texas’ anti-choice law would create “severe burdens in accessing reproductive healthcare.”
Native Americans are disparately impacted not only by restrictions on federal funding for abortion, but also by a lack of public awareness about the unique barriers to reproductive health care faced by their communities.
As Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center executive director Charon Asetoyer explained to Salon, despite the disparate impact anti-choice restrictions have on Native American communities, Native people are often a “silent population” in national conversations about reproductive rights. For example, she noted that although Native Americans are entitled to receive care through the federally funded Indian Health Service (IHS), “We are still struggling to aspire to the Hyde Amendment while others work to get rid of it.”
Indeed, as a 2002 survey of Native American women’s reproductive health care access found, 85 percent of IHS offices “often refuse to provide Native American women even the limited access to abortion services to which they are legally entitled under the Hyde Amendment.”
As a result, Asetoyer continued, many Native Americans who wish to access abortion services are forced to incur higher out-of-pocket costs in order to travel to the nearest abortion provider when “A lot of the time women in these situations don’t even have an automobile to drive to the nearest Planned Parenthood, let alone the money to pay for the procedure.”
3. LGBT Persons
In an op-ed for Advocate, National LGBTQ Task Force representative Candace Bond-Theriault affirmed that the LGBTQ and reproductive justice movements are “inseparable” because “many of the same people who propose policies that discriminate against LGBTQ people also [are] actively working to deny access to reproductive health care.”
While the Hyde amendment makes abortion care inaccessible for many, Bond-Theriault highlighted how anti-choice restrictions additionally perpetuate structural inequalities wherein individuals are “stigmatized because of the personal bodily choices that [they] make.”
Lambda Legal’s Camilla Taylor, Caroline Sacerdote, and Kara Ingelhart previously explained the pervasive and negative forms of stigma that both movements address, noting that, “People who have an abortion -- whether members of the LGBT community or not -- experience something familiar to all LGBT people: stigma.” They emphasized the importance of combating abortion stigma because, “As the LGBT community knows all too well, it is hard to fight against efforts to roll back your civil rights when you have to remain in the closet.”
In an op-ed titled “Abortion Access and Trans Health Care Are Bound Together in Texas,” Texas Equal Access Fund president Nan Little Kirkpatrick wrote that “the Hyde amendment is discrimination in health care” faced by those attempting to “exercise their reproductive rights as granted by the Supreme Court.” She argued that the effort to take down structurally oppressive measures like the Hyde amendment “expressly highlights the ways that the movements for trans and reproductive justice intersect” because both involve “bodily autonomy.”
4. Service Members And Veterans
Because the Hyde amendment is a restriction on federal abortion funding, its impact is felt by anyone dependent on federally subsidized medical care, including service members or veterans.
After the Supreme Court’s 5-3 decision against Texas’ anti-choice law HB 2, Salon’s Amanda Marcotte named the repeal of the Hyde amendment one of the next major goals for pro-choice advocates. According to Marcotte, “The effects of the Hyde Amendment have been devastating” for both low-income families and service members because it means “no federal employees, service women, veterans or women on Medicaid have access to coverage for abortion.”
As Steph Herold, managing director of the Sea Change Program, wrote in an op-ed for Rewire, All* Above All “is playing a pivotal role by introducing pro-active abortion access legislation and encouraging elected officials to come out against the Hyde Amendment.”
The organization represents a coalition of reproductive justice advocates and women of color whose goals are to catalyze action to “restore public insurance coverage so that every woman, however much she makes, can get affordable, safe abortion care when she needs it.”
From September 25 to October 1, All* Above All is leading a week of action, which includes “130 activities hosted by 68 organizations in 38 states to show support for lifting bans on abortion coverage for low-income women.” The United for Abortion Coverage Week of Action also includes “a multi-city ad campaign amplifying the voices of Catholics [for choice] across the county” as well as a “celebration of local victories” to earn recognition for the need to repeal oppressive anti-choice restrictions like the Hyde amendment.
In addition, All* Above All has mobilized support for the EACH Woman Act, proposed legislation that would repeal the Hyde amendment and guarantee “coverage for abortion for every woman, however much she earns or however she is insured.” According to All* Above All, the bill now has over 120 co-sponsors who have committed themselves to affirming that people have the right to make the best reproductive health care decision for themselves and their families.
To mark 40 years of the Hyde amendment’s dangerous anti-choice legacy, NARAL Pro-Choice America shared the stories of several individuals “from diverse backgrounds and experiences [who] came together to support repeal of Hyde.” Although their stories represent a variety of experiences in trying to gain access to necessary abortion care, the common refrain and message to the media was clear. As one of the individuals, Mary Tobin, wrote: “If equality is truly a pillar that our country represents and embraces, then the repeal of the Hyde Amendment is crucial to upholding our country’s identity.”