On January 10th, Hillary Clinton broke new ground in the fight for reproductive justice as the first presidential candidate to publicly call for an end to the Hyde Amendment. Bernie Sanders has also now expressed his opposition to Hyde, making this the first election in history when both of the frontrunners for the Democratic nomination have named this policy as one that they would opposed and work to repeal.
Much of the coverage of these announcements calls the Hyde Amendment an “obscure” or “little known” piece of federal policy that restricts access to abortion services. But, for those working in reproductive justice and abortion access, the impacts of the Hyde Amendment are known all too well.
First passed in 1976, the Hyde Amendment has been passed yearly since then as a part of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies appropriations legislation. It’s original intention was clear:
“I certainly would 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.”
-Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), 1977
Representative Henry Hyde, for whom the amendment is named, wanted to restrict access to abortion at the federal level following the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. Barred by the Supreme Court’s findings from banning abortion access for all women, he instead chose to ban Medicaid coverage for abortion services.
Since that decision, federal limits on funding for abortion services have expanded to include members of the Peace Corps, Native Americans, federal employees and their dependents, and inmates in federal prisons and detention centers, among others.
Targeting the low-income women who rely on Medicaid for access to healthcare has led to disastrous outcomes since the original passage of Hyde in 1976. Restrictions on Medicaid funding for abortion services have caused one in four poor women seeking abortion services to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, and the inability to access abortion services pushes women further into poverty.
They Hyde Amendment places the constitutional right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy out of reach for Medicaid recipients, and it opened the door for further federal restrictions on abortion access.
While the narrative that federal funding shouldn’t go to abortion services has gained traction since 1976, activists have been working tirelessly to bring attention to the disproportionate impact these bans have on low income communities and communities of color to fight back against this damaging rhetoric. Campaigns like All* Above All have been instrumental in bringing the Hyde Amendment back into the national conversation, and into the policy platforms of presidential candidates like Clinton and Sanders.
Speaking to Salon, Yamani Hernandez, Executive Director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, explained why Clinton’s outspoken opposition to the Hyde Amendment was so important in this election cycle:
- “In an election that is shaping up to focus heavily on income inequality in an America with more people struggling than ever before, it’s important that we see candidates understand and make the case the reproductive rights and abortion access are inextricably tied to economic freedom.”
And this is the real victory: that two of the people at the top of the list of potential presidents are not only thinking about it, but speaking out about the importance of repealing the Hyde Amendment altogether. Whoever they choose to support in the primary, Democratic voters can be proud that their nominee is committed to real change in the fight for reproductive justice for all.