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.