Commentary Abortion

Enough Is Enough: Repeal Hyde Now

Jazmine Walker

As we acknowledge the passage of Hyde 38 years ago this month, it is important to look at how the amendment helped to usher in a wave of anti-choice legislation that has the most detrimental impacts on poor communities of color—especially in states like Mississippi.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

September 30 marks the 38th year since Congress passed the original Hyde Amendment—the measure that bans the use of federal money for abortion, with exceptions for rape and incest, primarily affecting Medicaid recipients.

This means that for 38 years, low-income women, people of color, young people, and folks at these intersections have been subjected to the unjust intent of Rep. Henry Hyde, and his amendment created on the heels of Roe v. Wade, to take away their constitutional right to plan for the family they want.

Rep. Hyde made his intent perfectly clear during his 1977 congressional debate over Medicaid funding when he said:

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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.

Though states can allocate state Medicaid funding for abortion beyond cases of rape or incest, some states opt to uphold Hyde while taking additional measures to make abortion impossible to access for just about everyone, just as Sen. Hyde intended.

As we acknowledge the passage of Hyde this week, it is important to look at how the amendment helped to usher in a wave of anti-choice legislation that has the most detrimental impacts on poor communities of color, who are also routinely denied adequate health care, Medicaid expansion, comprehensive sex education, or programs that support pregnant and parenting teens—especially in states like Mississippi.

In Mississippi, where 22.3 percent of the population is living below the federal poverty line, poor folks have become a target of anti-choice legislators. Mississippi has only one abortion clinic, meaning 91 percent of women there live in counties without an abortion provider. This makes it difficult, if not insurmountable, for most Mississippians—who already struggle with lack of access to adequate health care, while Gov. Bryant refuses to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act—to access the abortion care that one-third of them will need.

While Mississippi’s legislature limits women’s reproductive choices, it also creates stigma around people’s sexual health.

In 2011, Mississippi enacted a law that requires each school district to adopt an abstinence-only or abstinence-plus sex education program, upholding monogamous heterosexual sexual relationships as the only “appropriate” kind of intercourse. However, a recent study by the Center for Mississippi Health Policy found that 12 percent of surveyed middle and high schools principals said they would not implement a sex education program at all. It is no wonder the state retains the second highest teen birth rate in the nation, while also holding a low ranking for programs that support pregnant and parenting teens.

This isn’t a surprise, because Republican Gov. Bryant favors shame- and fear-based tactics instead of healthy and productive conversations about sex. At a 2012 conference of 200 teens sponsored by the governor’s office, Bryant told participants, “If you want to fail in life, if you want to end up being on Medicaid—CHIPS [the Children’s Health Insurance Program] and Medicaid and food stamps the rest of your life—if you never want to have a career, then all you’ve got to do is drop high school and have a baby.”

“And I can almost assure you that’s what’s going to happen to you,” he said.

Bryant shames teens who choose to become parents and perpetuates stigma for people receiving public aid, despite the fact that research shows access to public benefits can improve health and economic outcomes for children and families. And, although Bryant questions teens’ ability to parent, and create thriving families, Mississippi has the most restrictive laws around abortion for teens.

Youth are required to get parental consent from both parents to have an abortion, with an exception only for a medical emergency. Requiring both parents to consent provides no additional medical benefit for teens, it simply limits young people’s ability to make informed and healthy decisions about their reproductive lives and their access to care.

Though Mississippi is adamant about limiting access to abortion and comprehensive sex education, it is one of the most dangerous states to carry a pregnancy to term—especially for Black women. Black mothers in the state between ages 25 and 29 are four times more likely to have infants die before their first birthday than their white counterparts. Mississippi ranks 47th in the country when it comes to maternal death, where Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related conditions in comparison to white women.

Medicaid expansion could have been an important first step for eliminating many of these health disparities by insuring an additional 300,000 low-income people, but still would not ensure the affordability of abortion care.

At the federal level, in 2010 President Obama signed an executive order that extended Hyde Amendment provisions to the Affordable Care Act, thereby affirming that no federal subsidies would be used to pay for abortions. If federal exchange insurers cover abortion care, those insured are required to pay a separate itemized charge for said coverage, which creates additional costs for poor and young women of color trying to access affordable health care. Meanwhile, 21 states have enacted legislation restricting coverage for abortion in insurance exchanges. While access to health insurance is only one step to addressing racial health disparities, insurance, of any kind, should not be a barrier between a woman and making the best decision for her circumstances.

People should have access to safe reproductive health care, regardless of their income or health insurance coverage.

Now more than ever we need to repeal Hyde and other policies like it that make abortion care, and other reproductive and sexual health programs, less accessible for the people who need it most.

Mississippi shows us that the Hyde Amendment is not only a means for making abortion care less accessible for poor women of color, but also has led to more laws limiting the sexual and reproductive choices of said women. Poor women of color were among the first to be denied abortion access through Hyde, but the intent and purpose of Rep. Hyde was to eliminate access to safe abortion care for us all. If we do not commit to repealing Hyde now, Rep. Hyde’s dream will soon become a frightening reality.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this piece incorrectly identified Henry Hyde as a member of the Senate. In fact, Hyde served in the House of Representatives.

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.