From Hyde to Stupak, over 30 years of limiting access to abortion

I was having a conversation about access to abortion the other day with two friends who are both engaged and informed about feminist and reproductive health topics. When discussing the Stupak Amendment I learned neither of them was aware that access to abortion has been restricted at the federal level before.
This conversation got me thinking about this moment as an opportunity for broader education and action around the Hyde Amendment which has banned the use of federal funds to cover abortion since it was passed in 1976. Under Hyde women on Medicaid, military personnel and family members, women who receive health care through Indian Health Services, and those on disability insurance cannot have their abortions paid for using federal funds (most states ban the use of their Medicaid funds as well). Abortion is the only set of medical procedures that are explicitly excluded from Medicaid. Abortion has been specifically targeted and separated out from all other health care.
The Hyde Amendment severely limits access to abortion. And it has done so for the majority of time Roe v. Wade has been US law. So the Stupak Amendment is not something completely new, but rather the continuation of a pattern. There is a deliberate, concerted effort to make abortion harder and harder to access until “choice” is no longer an option.
Many reproductive rights organizations have taken the position that we should maintain the status quo regarding the use of federal funds for abortion in health care reform. I understand the pragmatism of this approach – passing health care reform is a massively difficult undertaking that has been derailed before. Trying to keep abortion out of the debate as much as possible without losing ground was an understandable goal. But let’s be clear: the status quo sucks.
Since Roe v. Wade there has been a steady chipping away at access to abortion, with those who are already the most vulnerable experiencing the brunt of these attacks. The fact that abortion is legal doesn’t do much good for women who can’t have the procedure because of financial and other barriers. Rather than focusing only on legality, we must emphasize access for everyone who seeks abortion. This is a big part of what the Reproductive Justice framework is all about: recognizing that existing social hierarchies impact a person’s ability to receive legal, safe, and affordable reproductive health care and building a politics that centers the needs of those who are traditionally the most marginalized.

The Stupak Amendment would limit access for even more women, since it would be practically impossible for private insurance companies that participate in the new system to cover abortion.
The Stupak Amendment has put the issue of federal funding for abortion back in the spotlight and inspired many people to take action. However, much of the language used to combat the amendment has focused on the fact that women will be prevented from using their own money to pay for insurance that covers abortion in the new health system. This framing draws a line regarding whose ability to access abortions will be fought for during this health care reform process: those women who have enough money to afford an insurance plan other than Medicaid.
The Stupak Amendment is despicable, but I see in the passionate response an opportunity to put federal funding in the spotlight. It’s time to energize and expand the campaign to get rid of any bans on the use of federal funds for abortion using the anger over Stupak as a starting point. We need to frame the issue in a way that does not bury the links between Hyde and Stupak but rather draws the links between all bans on the use of federal funds for abortion and presents them as cruel, discriminatory, a violation of women’s rights, and an attack on their health and safety.
Focusing on the ban on federal funds will require scaling up education campaigns and making the repeal of Hyde a priority for legislators. Reproductive rights organizations, especially those with a large base and a presence on Capitol Hill, will have to put resources towards overturning Hyde in a way that they never have before. Because we need the hard work of everyone who cares about abortion rights to get rid of this horrible legislation that has been law for far too long.
Repeal of the Hyde Amendment is long overdue and this is an ideal moment to take up the issue. Let’s continue the momentum against the Stupak Amendment to increase access for groups of women for whom vital reproductive health care has been kept out of reach for too long.

Take action to stop the Stupak Amendment.

Take action to repeal the Hyde Amendment.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • theology_nerd

    While I understand the accessibility argument, I think it is important to note that the Stupak amendment does nothing to decrease the legality of abortion. It’s still a legal option, but the question is whether or not the government is obligated to finance that option for everyone who chooses it. I can see right-wingers arguing that a woman has the right to do other things to her body (get breast implants, get a mole removed for cosmetic reasons, use tobacco products and fill her lungs with carcinogens) but that it’s not the government’s job to foot the bill.
    I also think that this amendment is necessary in order to push healthcare reform through, because federal funding for abortion WILL keep some people from supporting this bill. If we assure them that their tax dollars won’t be used for something they find morally reprehensible, perhaps they’ll be more likely to support this crucial reform. (Although we can’t always choose what our taxes go to…as a pacifist, I don’t want my money going to fund abortion, war, capital punishment, or bailout packages for millionaires when there are schools, hospitals, and social programs to fund!)

  • MJP

    Thank you for this post, Jos! I couldn’t have said it better myself.
    We absolutely must work now to educate our policymakers and our supporters about the Hyde Amendment — to build the base of support that will be needed to overturn Hyde.
    In the statement put out by the National Network of Abortion Funds (full disclosure: my employer), we talk about how the anti-abortion forces have always been out to build a wall between women and the promise of Roe v. Wade. Hyde started that wall and Stupak builds on its foundation. We shouldn’t talk about one with out talking about the other.
    We cannot accept the status quo. It has damaged the lives of too many women for the last thirty years. The Stupak Amendment makes clear that what starts with poor women will creep outward to eventually affect all women’s access to abortion.
    I invite everyone to check our our full statement on our website: http://www.nnaf.or/stopstupak.html
    and to join our Facebook Fan page:
    And please, sign our petition to repeal the Hyde Amendment at the link Jos provides.

  • cattrack2

    “…but the question is whether or not the government is obligated to finance that option for everyone who chooses it.”
    Not accusing you of this by any stretch, but there’s a lot of BS to the argument that Stupak put forward. The problem with the Stupak Amendment is that it is not maintaining the status quo. Stupak goes beyond Hyde to limit the private funding of abortions. It does this by restricting abortion on the exchange, forcing women to buy abortion services off exchange. A true compromise would have been to simply force women to use their own $$$ to purchase on exchange abortion services. By forcing off exchange transactions you basically kill the private insurance market for abortion (for a whole variety of economic & actuarial reasons).

  • wax_ghost

    I would suggest everyone who thinks the Stupak Amendment isn’t that bad read this.


    Juhu Thukral, Director of Law and Advocacy at The Opportunity Agenda, wrote a great piece today for (a blog on race and politics, published by the Applied Research Center) that does two things:
    (a) Unpacks the impact of Stupak-Pitts on the reproductive freedoms of women of color, and
    (b) Potential legal challenges, if enacted, to Stupak-Pitts.
    Go to

  • wax_ghost

    That’s a great article. Thanks for sharing.