Women’s eNews has a great article about the anti-choice Hyde Amendment, and pro-choice efforts to dismantle it now that Hyde has left Congress.
A quick 101 for those who aren’t familiar with the Hyde Amendment: Passed in the late 1970s, the Hyde Amendment blocks federal Medicaid funding from paying for abortion. So if you’re a low-income woman who depends on government aid for your healthcare, your options are limited based on anti-choice ideology. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Constitutionality of the Hyde Amendment in 1980, arguing that while abortion must be legal in the United States, the federal government is not required to pay for it. On the coattails of Hyde, most states have also barred their Medicaid funds from paying for abortion (New York is a notable exception). Further, under the “it has to be legal but we don’t have to pay for it” theory supported by the Supreme Court, the federal government has refused to provide certain reproductive healthcare services for women in the military, women who depend on Indian Health Services for their healthcare, some federal employees, federal prisoners, Peace Corps volunteers, and women on disability insurance.
The Hyde – 30 Years Is Enough! Campaign is spearheading efforts to overturn the amendment, and they’re right — it’s about damn time. The Hyde Amendment encapsulates the extent to which women’s healthcare isn’t considered as fundamental as healthcare in general, and the degree to which wealthy, white politicians are more than happy to push an agenda which disproportionately affects poor women and women of color.
Many claim that abortion and birth control are political issues. They’re political only in the sense that women’s bodies are still largely viewed as community property, and so politicians and the public in general take no issue in asserting that the community should have some say when it comes to the level of healthcare those bodies are allowed to access.
About one in three American women will have an abortion at some point in her life. Most American women will become pregnant at some point, and most will attempt to prevent pregnancy at some point. Yet the degree to which women are able to access basic healthcare is deeply dependent on their economic status — especially when that healthcare is related to reproduction.
Since abortion is an “elective” medical procedure, you’ll hear conservatives (and many moderates) argue that there’s no reason the federal government should have to pay for it. But if the federal government is going to make a commitment to ensure that low-income people have a very basic level of healthcare through Medicaid, why are certain basic, extremely common medical procedures being denied to certain segments of the population because of their sex and economic level? I’ll remind detractors that pregnancy and childbirth is no walk in the park. The United States maintains disgraceful maternal mortality rates, and black women — who are more likely to rely on government aid for health care — die of pregnancy-related complications at four times the rate of white women. Women make up 70 percent of all adult Medicaid recipients, with 1 in 5 low-income women relying on it.
But rescinding the Hyde Amendment doesn’t seem to be on the lips of many leading Democrats.
It’s not hard to figure out why. The women who are being most negatively affected by Hyde are poor women, women of color, women who rely on government aid — you know, women who just don’t matter as much as wealthier white women who have the privilege and time to get out and vote, to contribute to the Democratic party, to attend the fundraisers. They’re the women who have already been successfully demonized by the Republican party as the welfare queens who suck up the hard-earned tax dollars of good Americans, who are over-sex and irresponsible, who have “litters” of “illigetimate” children with different daddies, whose reproduction it’s ok to control, as we’re both sterilizing them and barring them access to basic reproductive healthcare.
Keep in mind that these “welfare queens,” many of whom survive off of little to nothing, have to face a whole slew of “pro-life” policies when it comes to making reproductive choices: Federal funds won’t pay for abortion, but in many “pro-life” states they’re penalized for having more children if they’re dependent on public assistance. Tens of thousands of low-income women who would have preferred to terminate a pregnancy are prevented from doing so because of Hyde restrictions.
For these women, the “right to choose” is meaningless.
From the Women’s eNews article:
The reluctance to repeal the ban reaches into the Democrats’ rank and file.
“There are some pretty adamant pro-choice Congress members that just feel strongly that the Hyde Amendment needs to stay in place,” an organizer who works for one of the groups involved in the 30 Years is Enough Campaign said on the condition of anonymity. “Some of their answers have been, ‘Well, the American public feels that Medicaid is already an entitlement program. If you tie abortion into it, they’ll be less inclined to expand Medicaid services.’”
Medicaid — or, very very basic healthcare for poor people — is an “entitlement program.” We’ve got to be one of the only nations in the world which looks at people who want healthcare and thinks “entitled.”
Healthcare is not an entitlement the way that a priviliged rich kid feels “entitled” to go to Harvard. Healthcare is a human right. Access to it should not be contingent on economic status, or country of residence, or race, or gender. Healthcare is not something that only the world’s wealthiest should be able to obtain, while the dirty masses are spoiled children for having the audacity to argue that their bodies and their lives and their health are worth something, too. And I suspect that the people who consider Medicare to be an “entitlement program” are people who themselves feel fully entitled to the healthcare they undoubtedly receive — it’s just that they receive it through other (likely superior) means.
The decision to have a child should never be dependent on a woman’s economic status. Nine times out of ten in these conversations, someone pipes up with, “Well if they don’t want to have a child, they just shouldn’t have sex.” So let’s get that out of the way, too: The right to have sex should not be dependent on your economic status, or on your ability/willingness to raise a child. This is clearly a conclusion that Congress has already come to, at least when it comes to men — Viagra is now covered under Medicaid, so that men with erectile dysfunction can medically treat it. I may have missed the uproar, but I can’t find any reports of a controversy stemming from the fact that our hard-earned tax dollars are funding a man’s ability to get it up.
To be clear, I’m glad there wasn’t a controversy. Poor men have just as much a right to sexual healthcare as wealthier men. What boggles my mind, though, is the fact that sex is a god-given right for men to the point where federal funds are unquestioningly extended to cover male sexual performance drugs, but those same funds are barred from covering procedures which allow women to avoid a whole slew of medical issues that come with carrying a pregnancy for nine months and then birthing a child. Federal funds can be extended to allow men to have sex (when not having sex, though it sucks, isn’t often an economically perilous or health or life-threatening condition), but they cannot be extended to terminate pregnancies, when pregnancy is just about guaranteed to have far more an effect on a woman’s health and financial situation than not being able to get or sustain an erection will ever have on a man’s. It’s interesting, then, to see how our government spins terms like “medically necessary”:
“The law says if it’s an (Food and Drug Administration)-approved drug and it is medically necessary, it has to be covered,” said Gary Karr, spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which administers the health insurance program for older Americans.
Viagra is covered, but RU-486 is not. Funny how that works.
No one suggests that the solution is for low-income men to just not have sex. And yet this is exactly the option conservatives offer to low-income women. That, or deal with the consequences. Because women’s bodies are not quite human, it’s fair to treat their reproductive health as optional or not “real” healthcare. Because the Hyde Amendment deals specifically with low-income women, it’s even easier to justify denying these women the most basic health services.
Healthcare should not be a political issue. All people should have access to it — even if some of those people are considered sub-human because they happen to possess a uterus, or because they don’t have as much money as your average United States congressperson.
Abortion is not simply an elective procedure which women have out of convenience or vanity and nothing more. It’s a procedure which, at the very least, allows women who do not want to carry a pregnancy to term avoid a process which is undeniably physically trying, which often leads to other health issues, and which in the worst of cases can kill you. Such a procedure should not be an optional part of healthcare coverage. It should be recognized as one of the most common medical procedures in the United States, one which has saved the lives of thousands of women, and has enabled millions more to live their lives as they see fit. Without reproductive rights, women simply would not be where we are today. I would aruge that compulsory pregnancy, more than just about anything else in history, has been at the root of women’s oppression. Only when pregnancy and childbirth are choices which are freely made, and only when child-rearing is truly valued, will women be anywhere close to achieving “equal” rights.
The fact that low-income women in this country lack access to basic healthcare — in addition to lacking even more basics, like the ability to feed their families — puts them strides behind middle and upper-class women when it comes to social mobility and economic achievement. We’re kidding ourselves when we posit that the United States is a meritocracy or a classless society when so many people in this country are busier worrying about how they’re going to support another child, or how they’re going to work and have their children cared for, or what they’re going to do about a family health crisis that they can’t afford, than they are worrying about college funds or work promotions or class mobility.
Tossing the Hyde Amendment must be a top priority for reproductive rights activists, and we must force it to be a top priority for Congressional Democrats. Anything less will amount to failing women in general, and throwing the most vulnerable among us under the bus (again) in the name of cohesive pro-choice politics and maintaining — instead of expanding — abortion rights.
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