The Hyde Amendment turns 40 this month, so here’s a reminder of WTF it is and why it matters

With September comes the Hyde amendment’s 40th anniversary, and while the past few months have seen numerous victories for abortion rights, from the Supreme Court’s Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, to state’s attempts to defund Planned Parenthood being blocked, the Hyde amendment is arguably the greatest obstacle to abortion access that remains. The Hyde amendment, passed in 1976, blocks federal funds from covering abortion services in almost all circumstances for women who get their health insurance through Medicaid.

One 2013 Guttmacher study wrote:

“Guttmacher studies and those from other researchers on the impact of the Hyde amendment do indeed conclude that denial of abortion insurance coverage under Medicaid impedes a sizable minority of America’s poorest women from obtaining the procedure.”

Today, Roe v. Wade (1973) is rightfully acknowledged as the most important reproductive rights victory in history, but I can’t imagine that it means a great deal to the impoverished women who can’t afford it. If choice, bodily autonomy, and one’s constitutional rights are privileges to exclusively be enjoyed by women who can afford them, it’s clear we still have a long way to go.

The Hyde amendment is rationalized by claims that people who do not support abortion rights due to religion, as is well within their rights to (hence the term pro-choice), should not have to contribute to abortions via their tax dollars. This is, of course, a complete double standard ignoring the many Americans who opposed, say, the Iraq War, through which countless living, born humans lost their lives, but were still forced to pay for it through their taxes.

But the ultimate flaw in this justification for denying low-income women access to comprehensive medical services that aren’t filtered through religious bias is rooted in the most basic distinctions between democracy and theocracy, or a state ruled by religious principles. A government that make its laws based on the religious values of some rather than objective science, facts, and the health-related needs of its people, veers far too close to theocracy.

To support or not support abortion is a choice for everyone to make, for themselves, but that choice shouldn’t result in poor women being denied their human rights. To have an abortion is a peaceful lifestyle choice women of all walks of life who become pregnant should have to make for themselves. Alternatively, anyone who doesn’t support abortion can practice their right to make peaceful lifestyle choices by, well, not having an abortion.

Abortion is, objectively speaking, a simple, incredibly safe medical procedure. It’s a health service as basic as any other social procedure, and the stigma around it is rooted in nothing more than misogyny and ignorance about the science of embryonic and fetal development. Treating it as anything other than the ordinary, necessary medical procedure that it is and not providing insurance coverage for it only reinforces the stigma.

Economic arguments against abortion and overturning Hyde also do not hold clout. Access to abortion has critical economic implications, as women and families forced to bear children they simply can’t afford not only pushes them deeper into poverty, but also dramatically increases spending on public health care, foster care, welfare, and other related expenses amounting to nearly $9.4 billion annually.

Regulations on federal funding for abortion research are almost as detrimental as regulations on federal funding for abortion itself, restricting researchers’ ability to study and improve the already low-risk abortion technique. In November last year, a Republican senator even attempted to block one University of Missouri doctoral student from researching the effects of mandated waiting periods as her research drew on federal funds. Impediments on public funds going toward anything vaguely related to abortion reflect the dangerous, recently repealed (thanks, Obama) “gag rule,” which historically prevented organizations receiving federal funding from giving women information about abortions. Those who suffer most from lacking research on the critical medical procedure are, obviously, women.


Cerdit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
CREDIT: Cerdit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

There is some hope for the repeal of the law and its discriminatory effects on poor women. Earlier this year, both Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and her former rival, Bernie Sanders, came out strongly against the Hyde amendment, and the Democratic party platform currently calls for its repeal. Where Donald Trump has come out staunchly against abortion (no doubt merely as a bid to evangelicals, but, still), repealing Hyde and making reproductive health services available to all women are critical tenets of Clinton’s platform. In other words, remember to vote, kids.