Commentary

Scrap the Hyde Amendment — Opinion

September 30, 2021 6:00 am

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“I would certainly like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the…Medicaid bill.” 

When U.S. Rep.Henry Hyde, R-Illinois, stated his intent to make abortion inaccessible for as many people as possible, he unintentionally illustrated the link between abortion access and the economic well-being of people seeking abortion care. 

More than four decades ago, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment as a part of an annual appropriations package, which banned any federal money from funding abortion access. The most well-known outcome of this policy is that people enrolled in the federal Medicaid program are unable to access coverage for abortion care. But it also bans abortion coverage for people who obtain their health coverage or care through other federal programs, like the Indian Health Service and federal prisons. Due to persistent systemic racism,a disproportionate portion of people who access care through these programs are people of color.

Abortion access is often singled out as a political “wedge issue” — something to consider during the political football of U.S Supreme Courtvacancies. But for people who need it, abortion care, access is an essential health care procedure that is deeply connected to their ability to determine their own futures, exercise their bodily autonomy, and live full, healthy lives. It’s a decision that people make while considering a myriad of factors — whether or not they can afford to have another child, whether or not they want to be a parent, where they live, what job they have, what their support system looks like. For too many people, restrictions like the Hyde Amendment make this decision prohibitively expensive and deeply stigmatized. 

Every day, I see the consequences of these restrictions in my role at Our Justice, an abortion fund and practical support group for people seeking abortion care in Minnesota. Abortion funds like Our Justice exist specfically because policies like the Hyde Amendment make abortion financially inaccessible — every single one of the people reaching out to us for abortion funding and logistical support cannot afford to access an abortion on their own. Our requesters are often not only cobbling together funding from multiple sources, they are also struggling to get time off work, find a ride to the clinic and arrange child care. 

Minnesota is an outlier among other states in that our state Medicaid program — called Medical Assistance here — provides coverage for abortion care. But in practice we find that delays in coverage approval and inconsistencies in coverage for telehealth abortion care mean that many Minnesotans do not actually experience the benefits of this state-level protection. Additionally, about half of Our Justice’s requests for abortion funding come from states without Medicaid abortion coverage, like North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa. State level restrictions on abortion access mean that although abortion is technically legal in Minnesota, it is nowhere near accessible to everyone who needs it. If Roe v. Wade is overturned in the upcoming Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson, Minnesota could be the only state in the Upper Midwest where abortion access is legal. 

When abortion coverage is restricted at the federal level and left up to individual states to regulate, the result is a patchwork system of funding sources, restrictive laws, and support systems that people seeking care must navigate to come up with the money for a procedure that starts at $700 and can go up to $1,700. Texas’ near total abortion ban is just the most recent example of this patchwork system, and abortion funds like Our Justice are all preparing for the ripple effect of increased funding requests from people out-of-state.

These policies and similar bans inflict lasting harm. People who are denied abortion access are more likely to experience an increase in household poverty and struggle to cover basic living expenses like food, housing and transportation. It is worth repeating: These consequences fall hardest on people of color and people with low incomes already marginalized by the health care system due to economic inequality and racism.

Our Justice is an organization that fights for reproductive justice — a vision for the world where everyone has the ability to decide if, when and how to raise a child, and to make those decisions in safe and supportive communities. Abortion justice is an essential part of that vision. Abortion care must be accessible when we need it, without barriers based on geography, income, race, gender or immigration status. To get there, repealing the Hyde amendment and Minnesota’s state-level abortion restrictions is non-negotiable. 

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Shayla Walker
Shayla Walker

Shayla Walker is the vision realization advisor at Our Justice, an abortion fund and reproductive justice organization based in the Twin Cities, which provides financial and logistical support to people seeking abortions. She uses her leadership and organizing skills to advance the Our Justice mission and reintegrate conversations of abortion access to the larger social justice landscape.

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