On the 43rd anniversary of the passage of the Hyde Amendment, a key piece of legislation that restricts abortion rights for Medicaid recipients, Representatives Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) have announced the law’s days are numbered.
In a video shared exclusively with The Root, the congresswomen condemn the “egregious policy rider,” named for former Illinois Representative Henry Hyde, for restricting abortion access for the women who are most socially and economically vulnerable. They also draw attention to the legislative fight to repeal it.
“Our access to reproductive justice and reproductive freedom should not be income-based,” Rep. Ocasio-Cortez says.
“Hyde’s days are numbered. Tick-tock, y’all.” Pressley chimes in later.
The Hyde Amendment has received renewed scrutiny recently because it stands at the intersection of two key Democratic issues for 2020: reproductive justice and healthcare. By banning the use of federal money for abortions, the law effectively means Medicaid—upon which 1 in 5 Americans rely to fund their health and longterm care—can’t be used for abortion procedures unless the mother’s life is in danger, or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.
Rep. Lee, author of the EACH Woman Act (Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance), which seeks to repeal the Hyde Amendment, vividly recalls being “furious” at the amendment’s passage. At the time, she was a House staffer.
“I couldn’t believe it, because I knew exactly what this would do, and that would be to deny low-income women and women of color access to the full range of reproductive rights, including abortion,” Lee says in the video.
“I remember the days of back-alley abortions very well. Before Roe v. Wade, I had to go to Mexico for an abortion. That was horrible. My own country would not allow [the procedure],” Lee recalls.
As Congresswoman Pressley points out, the bill has had a disproportionate impact on low-income women, 1 in 4 of whom are forced to carry an unplanned pregnancy because they can’t access or afford an abortion. And because class is intractably tied to racial divisions in this country (people of color are disproportionately likely to rely on Medicaid), the amendment is more likely to restrict abortion access for women of color than it does white women. Many advocates of repealing the amendment have thus highlighted it as a human rights and racial justice issue.
“We’ve created two classes of citizens when it comes to abortion access in this country,” Destiny Lopez, who co-directs of the advocacy group All* Above All, a group that opposes the Hyde Amendment, told the New York Times this summer. Lopez’s statement is based on research showing those who can afford the procedure will find a way to get it done—even if abortion is illegal or providers are hard to find.
Lopez also pointed out that the law exacerbates income inequality because it forces women who cannot afford abortions to bear and raise children—an endeavor that has only gotten exponentially more costly in the last two decades. One recent study Lopez cited found women who were denied an abortion because they couldn’t afford it were “more likely to be living in poverty a year later than women who did get an abortion,” the Times writes.
Currently, Lee’s EACH Woman Act has 169 co-sponsors, including presidential hopefuls Senators Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. The Massachusetts senator, in particular, gave impassioned remarks calling for the Hyde Amendment’s repeal at a town hall this summer; Democratic front-runner and former vice president Joe Biden, once a staunch supporter of the law, recently reversed his position.
Lee thanked young people from around the country for their work in drawing attention to the Hyde Amendment and fighting to repeal it.
“Unprecedented times demand and require from all of us unprecedented organizing and mobilizing,” Rep. Pressley added. The freshman congresswoman has made women’s health a key component of her legislative agenda. “They also demand unprecedented legislating, and that is exactly what we’re going to do.”