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.