National Minority Health Month: WOC’s access to abortion services

Cross-posted from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health’s blog, “Nuestra Vida, Nuestra Voz.” 

Each April public health and civil rights advocates work to raise awareness about the health inequities that continue to impact communities of color in the U.S. Among the health conditions that are usually highlighted are diabetes, HIV/AIDS, certain cancers, mental illness, and obesity. While it’s certainly critical to address the high rates of these conditions in our communities, another persistent minority health issue is often overlooked.

Women of color (WOC) consistently face reproductive health injustices that are rarely discussed in the context of a minority health issue. This topic is usually relegated to the WOC realm of women’s health. But this April, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) is shifting the dialogue about minority health and highlighting the lack of access to safe, legal, and affordable abortion as a very real health crisis for many of our herman@s.

In 1973, the Supreme Court passed the landmark Roe. v. Wade decision, granting women the right to safe and legal abortion. While this was a major victory for the women’s rights movement, the fight for abortion rights did not stop then. In fact, over the years, the right to abortion has been consistently attacked, restricted, and limited at both the state and federal level.

Among the most harmful of the restrictions enacted was the implementation of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion services. Rep. Henry Hyde, author of the Hyde Amendment, said of his intentions for the rider: “I would certainly 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.”  This rider has been renewed each year for over three decades, and currently, federal funds can only be used in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment.

The Hyde Amendment was crafted as a deliberate attack on low-income women’s reproductive freedom. Considering that women of color are more likely to be low-income – 24 percent of Latin@s, 27 percent of black women, and 18 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders live below the poverty level – the Hyde Amendment is essentially an attack on women of color’s reproductive rights, by denying them the ability to access affordable abortion. The denial of affordable healthcare that covers abortion is yet another issue on the long list of ways and means used to undermine the bodily autonomy and reproduction of WOC in the U.S.

As a result of the Hyde Amendment, abortion has remained out of reach for many low-income or uninsured women despite it being legalized in 1973. For many of our Latina herman@s, access to affordable abortion has never been an option because they are low-income, uninsured, or don’t have private insurance that covers abortion. The reality is, one in three Latin@s is uninsured, which is higher than other race/ethnic groups in the country. Of those that are insured, many rely on federally funded programs for coverage, which don’t cover abortion. Without the ability to afford it, the right to abortion is meaningless.

In fact, the first woman who died as a direct result of the Hyde Amendment was a Latina. Rosie Jiménez was a Latina college student and single mother who had Medicaid coverage. Since the Hyde Amendment had recently eliminated federal Medicaid funding for abortion, Rosie resorted to unsafe abortion because she didn’t have the means to pay for the service out of pocket. She died one week after her abortion in October 1977 due to complications from an unsafe procedure. Harrowing as it is, Rosie’s story is not unique. Each year tens of thousands of people are denied access to affordable abortion because of the Hyde Amendment. Although not every person’s story ends tragically, many people’s lives are greatly impacted by the financial burden of paying for an abortion or having to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.

For Latin@ immigrants, access to affordable abortion can be even more difficult due to many factors including, high rates of uninsurance, cultural and linguistic barriers, lack of information about abortion in the U.S., immigration status, and poverty.

It’s undeniable: the Hyde Amendment hurts women. Moreover, the Hyde Amendment hurts WOC, who are disproportionately low-income, making this not only a women’s health issue, but a minority health issue as well. This National Minority Health Month let’s raise awareness of all health inequities, including the ability to access safe and affordable abortion.

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