Last week President
Barack Obama released his budget for fiscal year 2010. The
document allocates hundreds of billions of dollars to initiatives
designed to help struggling families navigate the treacherous waters of
recession. The president wisely called for funding cuts to programs
consistently proven ineffective, including abstinence-only sexuality
education. Regrettably, he forgot to remove an archaic provision that,
today more than ever, thwarts the economic survival and
undermines healthy living for low-income women across America, the so-called Hyde
Amendment. Latinas, more likely to be poor and uninsured, top the list
of those affected by the restrictions posed by this law.
The Hyde Amendment, one of the first and most enduring efforts from
right-wing extremists to deny reproductive freedom to women, has for more than 30 years prohibited the use of federal funds to subsidize
access to abortion for low-income women who receive Medicaid. The only exceptions to these prohibitions are the cases of rape, incest
or if the woman’s life is in danger.
Medicaid recipients of reproductive age, nearly one-fourth (two million) are Hispanic. According to figures from the Guttmacher Institute, 60 percent of women who had
abortions in 2000 had incomes of less than twice the poverty level
–below $28,000 per year for a family of three. Yet, economic concern
is only one reason why women across the spectrum choose to have
abortions. While most (75%) cite economic pressure, the same percentage
say that having a baby would interfere with work or school; half do not
want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or
partner. Regardless of their reasons, women deserve full access to
information and services that can help them make, without coercion,
decisions that are most appropriate to their unique individual
realities. The Hyde prohibition and other discriminatory policies deny
women this essential right.
Because Latinas tend to be poorer than non-Latinas – therefore less
likely to have access to contraceptive methods and counseling – they
experience a disproportionate share of the unintended pregnancies in the U.S.
According to 2007 reports by Pew Hispanic Center, Latinas are twice as
likely as non-Latinas to live in poverty. One in five Hispanic women
live in poverty, compared with one in ten non-Hispanic women.
Immigrant Hispanic women are slightly more likely than native-born
Hispanic women to live in poverty, 22% versus 18%. Likewise, Latinas
who work full time earn less than non-Latinas, and the gap grows even
wider for recent immigrants.
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The cost of an abortion can be more than a full month of earnings for a poor family, especially in the midst of the employment crisis. Without
public funding, the choices of impoverished Latinas facing unwanted
pregnancies are dreadful. They are forced to find a way, however risky,
to secure money for an abortion. In the mildest of cases, a woman might
sacrifice money that would otherwise be used to pay for rent, utility
bills and groceries. For those struggling to collect the money, each
passing day represents a greater risk of health complications from
later term abortions. When essential funds are not available, some
low-income Latinas are effectively denied reproductive freedom and must
carry to term unplanned pregnancies. In their desperation, they might
even decide to run the risk of an unsafe, self-induced abortion.
In 2005, there were 1.21 million abortions in the United States and
today, about 22% of all women having abortions are Latinas. Latinas in
the United States have a much higher rate of unintended pregnancy
compared to white women, and therefore a higher rate of abortion. The
complex landscape of why so many women face unintended pregnancy and
what choices are available to them points to the urgent need to treat
reproductive health care as a public health priority, not a political
debate. For the most disadvantaged, abortion is as inaccessible as if
it were still illegal.
The White House’s proposed budget condones a two-tier health system, in
which women with private health insurance or private funds can exercise
their right to an abortion, but poor women cannot. Women choose
abortion for a myriad of reasons, economic and otherwise. We urge
President Obama and Congress to rethink the 2010 budget and give way to
sensible health policies that guarantee health, freedom and dignity for
all women, including poor Latinas.