Separate And Unequal: How Abortion Bans Exacerbate Discrimination

Amie Newman

The Hyde Amendment banning federal funds for abortion care discriminates against low income women and women of color. But is far from the only ban that discriminates against women of color and low-income women.

Abortion is perhaps top of the list of reproductive and sexual health care to which low-income women and women of color are disproportionately denied access, with devastating health effects. One of the primary barriers, since its passage in 1976, is the Hyde Amendment sponsored by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) which bars federal funds from covering abortion services. The impact of this policy on the lives and health of low-income women and women of color is immense, as detailed in Separate and Unequal, a new report from the Center for American Progress co-authored by Jessica Arons, Director of CAP’s Women’s Health and Rights program.  The report examines the effects of the Hyde Amendment and other policies on sexual and reproductive health disparities and related discrimination affecting the health and well-being of women of color and low-income women.

While it’s true that with a new, more anti-choice Congress and in the wake of health reform fight which culminated in more restrictions on access to abortion for lower-income women we’re not in a place to seriously consider repeal of the Hyde Amendment in the near future, there are, as Arons says, “steps to be taken.”

“As we begin to implement health reform and evaluate what does and does not work in our health care delivery system, we should examine the consequences of abortion funding bans on the physical, emotional, and financial well-being of women and their families. And we should be vigilant in seeking opportunities to improve access to quality, timely, and affordable abortion care.”

The health reform discussion and subsequent law has allowed advocates and providers to address some serious inequities when it comes to women’s health access more broadly. Pregnancy as a pre-existing condition and therefore as an excuse to deny a woman health insurance coverage? The majority of independent health insurance plans refusal to cover maternity care? Preventive reproductive and sexual health care like annual exams, Pap smears, breast exams and more not covered as basic care for women? All of these were examined and found to be discriminatory and flawed policies which placed profit above quality care for women, and were ultimately changed in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

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But the Hyde Amendment has also been the basis of an entire system of abortion funding bans which can and should be addressed, says the report. Millions of women suffer from an inequitable system which includes a ban on abortion funding for military women (or, for that matter, female relatives of military members covered under their health insurance) which bars all abortions at military hospitals and/or on military bases except when the woman’s life is endangered by the pregnancy; Medicare-banned abortion coverage which ensures that disabled women covered under Medicare do not have access to abortion; and abortion bans within the Indian Health Service which bars Native American women from accessing abortion care except in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment.

And here’s the thing. Women of color are most affected by all of these various funding bans.

The report is clear: women of color are more likely to be covered under government programs like Medicaid and Medicare, they are more likely to use military insurance covered by the Department of Defense, and, obviously, Indian Health Services specifically provides care to Native American women. So, we’ve built a wall to separate women of color and low income women from access to abortion – and it’s not an accident.

Arons writes that Rep. Hyde’s reason for enacting his ban on federal funding for abortion care is not out of concern over taxpayer money for abortion. Hyde:

“admitted during debate of his proposal that he was targeting poor women because they were the only ones vulnerable enough for him to reach. “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,” he said. “Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the … Medicaid bill.” [emphasis mine]

Hyde (and presumably most anti-choice advocates) wished to ensure the end to legal abortion for all women in this country, and targeted low-income women and women of color because they were (are) perceived as easy prey, so to speak.

And here is yet another reason to address the Hyde Amendment and related discriminatory policies directed towards women of color and lower income women. The targeting of marginalized groups of women who are considered vulnerable. A perfect example is what’s been deemed a “minority outreach” anti-choice campaign by Georgia Right to Life (with the extensive help of Priests for Life) – a campaign which presents millions of Black women as pawns in a medical system, spearheaded by reproductive health providers and advocates, intent on enacting “genocide” upon the Black race in this country. The campaign which includes billboards that proclaim African-American babies as an “endangered species” and outright stating that “Abortion is Genocide,” seeks to dis-empower women of color by presenting them as victims of a predatory system which forces them to have abortions. It presents women of color as voiceless and powerless when it comes to abortion.

The campaign turns a frightening history of control over and abuse of women of color and low income women’s fertility by the U.S. government and health care providers into an anti-choice campaign which, ironically, would enact more control over women’s health and lives by implementing more abortion restrictions which affect women of color and low-income women the most. U.S. policies which control or attempt to control women of color and lower income women’s fertility are nothing new. The U.S. government has kept a firm grip on women’s ability – especially lower income women’s and women of color’s ability –  to decide when (not to mention where or how) to have children or how many to have for years. The report thoroughly addresses our shameful history of forced sterilization of poor women (under threat of losing federal health benefits), forced childbirth for female slaves pregnant through rape, and the continued pressure upon low income women to accept longer acting forms of contraception.

But the truth is that women of color experience outrageous disparities when it comes to health outcomes from almost all reproductive and sexual health related issues from maternal and infant  mortality to rates of HIV infection to unintended pregnancy. Abortion is one more reproductive health issue where women of color and lower income women are not provided adequate access to care. As the report details:

The disparities observed for unintended pregnancy and abortion rates among women of color do not exist in a vacuum. In fact, they are repeated in almost every measure of health and well-being that gets tracked. Profound racial and ethnic disparities persist across a range of health outcomes, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity, and some forms of cancer. People of color bear a disproportionate burden of disease as a result of chronic exposure to racism, alongside deeply entrenched inequities in the areas of health insurance coverage, health care, income and wealth, access to healthy foods, transportation, education, and employment, all of which influence access to health-promoting resources.

Black women are 15 times more likely to contract HIV, than White women. Black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth, and their infants are 2.5 times more likely to die than White women’s babies note the statistics from 2005. The number two cause of death among pregnant women in this country is homicide. And the likelihood that a pregnant woman will be a victim of violence at the hands of a partner increases if she’s a woman of color. But all of these issues seem not to concern the anti-choice crowd which campaigns on the “abortion is genocide” platform.

Why do extremist, anti-choice campaigns which use higher abortion rates among women of color purely as an excuse to push more restrictive abortion laws, seem to gloss over one clear, obvious fact? Women of color experience higher rates of abortion, in part, because as they have higher unintended pregnancy rates. They have higher unintended pregancy rates because, as mentioned numerous times in this report, they are more likely to be lower income which means, in this country, limited or no access to primary care and trusted health care providers, limited access to quality educational and informational resources and a lack of cultural competency when it comes to health care.

There are many hard-working and effective reproductive justice organizations, working on the ground, on behalf of women of color, led by women of color, encompassing a diversity of reproductive justice advocates, who are “fighting back” against a long history of discriminatory policies and practices. CAP’s report highlights these many advocates and groups, including SisterSong, the Black Women’s Health Imperative, Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and others in order to make clear that – in direct contrast to many of the anti-choice efforts which seek to present women of color solely as easily duped by predatory providers and pro-choice advocates – women of color are far from voiceless, powerless victims.

In addition, groups like the National Network of Abortion Funds (as well as the remaining fourteen feminist women’s health centers) exist to help women who cannot afford to pay for an abortion on their own, cover the costs associated with an abortion (which may include transportation and other travel related costs if a woman lives in a state with abortion access restrictions).

Reproductive justice advocates, notes the report, continue to fight “for access to safe and voluntary reproductive health services, including contraception and abortion.” The Hyde Amendment is but one more – though admittedly extremely significant – barrier to safe, legal reproductive health care for low income women and women of color in the United States. Addressing Hyde in the context of a long line of discriminatory practices, on the part of the U.S. government and the medical system, against low income women and women of color is crucial whether the immediate political climate is conducive to change or not.

Commentary Politics

Democrats’ Latest Platform Silent on Discriminatory Welfare System

Lauren Rankin

The current draft of the 2016 Democratic Party platform contains some of the most progressive positions that the party has taken in decades. But there is a critical issue—one that affects millions in the United States—that is missing entirely from the draft: fixing our broken and discriminatory welfare system.

While the Republican Party has adopted one of the most regressive, punitive, and bigoted platforms in recent memory, the Democratic Party seems to be moving decisively in the opposite direction. The current draft of the 2016 Democratic Party platform contains some of the most progressive positions that the party has taken in decades. It calls for a federal minimum wage of $15; a full repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal Medicaid funding for abortion care; and a federal nondiscrimination policy to protect the rights of LGBTQ people.

All three of these are in direct response to the work of grassroots activists and coalitions that have been shifting the conversation and pushing the party to the left.

But there is a critical issue—one that affects millions in the United States—that is missing entirely from the party platform draft: fixing our broken and discriminatory welfare system.

It’s been 20 years since President Bill Clinton proudly declared that “we are ending welfare as we know it” when he signed into law a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. welfare system. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 implemented dramatic changes to welfare payments and eligibility, putting in place the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. In the two decades since its enactment, TANF has not only proved to be blatantly discriminatory, but it has done lasting damage.

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In one fell swoop, TANF ended the federal guarantee of support to low-income single mothers that existed under the now-defunct Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. AFDC had become markedly unpopular and an easy target by the time President Clinton signed welfare reform legislation into law, with the racist, mythic trope of the “welfare queen” becoming pervasive in the years leading up to AFDC’s demise.

Ronald Reagan popularized this phrase while running for president in 1976 and it caught fire, churning up public resentment against AFDC and welfare recipients, particularly Black women, who were painted as lazy and mooching off the government. This trope underwrote much of conservative opposition to AFDC; among other things, House Republican’s 1994 “Contract with America,” co-authored by Newt Gingrich, demanded an end to AFDC and vilified teen mothers and low-income mothers with multiple children.

TANF radically restructured qualifications for welfare assistance, required that recipients sustain a job in order to receive benefits, and ultimately eliminated the role of the federal state in assisting poor citizens. The promise of AFDC and welfare assistance more broadly, including SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps) benefits, is that the federal government has an inherent role of caring for and providing for its most vulnerable citizens. With the implementation of TANF, that promise was deliberately broken.

At the time of its passage, Republicans and many Democrats, including President Bill Clinton, touted TANF as a means of motivating those receiving assistance to lift themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps, meaning they would now have to work while receiving benefits. But the idea that those in poverty can escape poverty simply by working harder and longer evades the fact that poverty is cyclical and systemic. Yet, that is what TANF did: It put the onus for ending poverty on the individual, rather than dealing with the structural issues that perpetuate the state of being in poverty.

TANF also eliminated any federal standard of assistance, leaving it up to individual states to determine not only the amount of financial aid that they provide, but what further restrictions state lawmakers wish to place on recipients. Not only that, but the federal TANF program instituted a strict, lifetime limit of five years for families to receive aid and a two-year consecutive limit, which only allows an individual to receive two years of consecutive aid at a time. If after five total years they still require assistance to care for their family and themself, no matter their circumstances, they are simply out of luck.

That alone is an egregious violation of our inalienable constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Still, TANF went a step further: It also allowed states to institute more pernicious, discriminatory policies. In order to receive public assistance benefits through TANF, low-income single mothers are subjected to intense personal scrutiny, sexual and reproductive policing, and punitive retribution that does not exist for public assistance recipients in programs like Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs, programs that Democrats not only continue to support, but use as a rallying cry. And yet, few if any Democrats are crying out for a more just welfare system.

There are so many aspects of TANF that should motivate progressives, but perhaps none more than the family cap and forced paternity identification policies.

Welfare benefits through the TANF program are most usually determined by individual states based on household size, and family caps allow a state to deny welfare recipients’ additional financial assistance after the birth of another child. At least 19 states currently have family cap laws on the books, which in some cases allow the state to deny additional assistance to recipients who give birth to another child. 

Ultimately, this means that if a woman on welfare becomes pregnant, she is essentially left with deciding between terminating her pregnancy or potentially losing her welfare benefits, depending on which state she lives in. This is not a free and valid choice, but is a forced state intervention into the private reproductive practices of the women on welfare that should appall and enrage progressive Democrats.

TANF’s “paternafare,” or forced paternity identification policy, is just as egregious. Single mothers receiving TANF benefits are forced to identify the father of their children so that the state may contact and demand financial payment from them. This differs from nonwelfare child support payments, in which the father provides assistance directly to the single mother of his child; this policy forces the fathers of low-income single women on welfare to give their money directly to the state rather than the mother of their child. For instance, Indiana requires TANF recipients to cooperate with their local county prosecutor’s child support program to establish paternity. Some states, like Utah, lack an exemption for survivors of domestic violence as well as children born of rape and incest, as Anna Marie Smith notes in her seminal work Welfare Reform and Sexual Regulation. This means that survivors of domestic violence may be forced to identify and maintain a relationship with their abusers, simply because they are enrolled in TANF.

The reproductive and sexual policing of women enrolled in TANF is a deeply discriminatory and unconstitutional intrusion. And what’s also disconcerting is that the program has failed those enrolled in it.

TANF was created to keep single mothers from remaining on welfare rolls for an indeterminate amount of time, but also with the express goal of ensuring that these young women end up in the labor force. It was touted by President Bill Clinton and congressional Republicans as a realistic, work-based solution that could lift single mothers up out of poverty and provide opportunities for prosperity. In reality, it’s been a failure, with anywhere from 42 to 74 percent of those who exited the program remaining poor.

As Jordan Weissmann detailed over at Slate, while the number of women on welfare decreased significantly since 1996, TANF left in its wake a new reality: “As the rolls shrank, a new generation of so-called disconnected mothers emerged: single parents who weren’t working, in school, or receiving welfare to support themselves or their children. According to [the Urban Institute’s Pamela] Loprest, the number of these women rose from 800,000 in 1996 to 1.2 million in 2008.” Weissmann also noted that researchers have found an uptick in “deep or extreme poverty” since TANF went into effect.

Instead of a system that enables low-income single mothers a chance to escape the cycle of poverty, what we have is a racist system that denies aid to those who need it most, many of whom are people of color who have been and remain systemically impoverished.

The Democratic Party platform draft has an entire plank focused on how to “Raise Incomes and Restore Economic Security for the Middle Class,” but what about those in poverty? What about the discriminatory and broken welfare system we have in place that ensures not only that low-income single mothers feel stigmatized and demoralized, but that they lack the supportive structure to even get to the middle class at all? While the Democratic Party is developing strategies and potential policies to support the middle class, it is neglecting those who are in need the most, and who are suffering the most as a result of President Bill Clinton’s signature legislation.

While the national party has not budged on welfare reform since President Bill Clinton signed the landmark legislation in 1996, there has been some state-based movement. Just this month, New Jersey lawmakers, led by Democrats, passed a repeal of the state’s family cap law, which was ultimately vetoed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie. California was more successful, though: The state recently repealed its Maximum Family Grant rule, which barred individuals on welfare from receiving additional aid when they had more children.

It’s time for the national Democratic Party to do the same. For starters, the 2016 platform should include a specific provision calling for an end to family cap laws and forced paternity identification. If the Democratic Party is going to be the party of reproductive freedom—demonstrated by its call to repeal both the federal Hyde and Helms amendments—that must include women who receive welfare assistance. But the Democrats should go even further: They must embrace and advance a comprehensive overhaul of our welfare system, reinstating the federal guarantee of financial support. The state-based patchwork welfare system must be replaced with a federal welfare assistance program, one that provides educational incentives as well as a base living wage.

Even President Bill Clinton and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton both acknowledge that the original welfare reform bill had serious issues. Today, this bill and its discriminatory legacy remain a progressive thorn in the side of the Democratic Party—but it doesn’t have to be. It’s time for the party to admit that welfare reform was a failure, and a discriminatory one at that. It’s time to move from punishment and stigma to support and dignity for low-income single mothers and for all people living in poverty. It’s time to end TANF.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a typo that misidentified Sen. Tim Kaine as a Republican. We regret this error.