(Dis)Honoring Henry Hyde

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On November 5, President Bush will present the Presidential Medal of Freedom to, among others, Henry Hyde. (Hat tip to Prawfsblawg.) The official press release proclaims that Hyde “has served America with distinction” and has been a “powerful defender of life.”

In light of this award, I think it’s useful to recall the tremendous amount of harm Henry Hyde has inflicted on poor women over the past thirty years. In reproductive rights circles, Hyde’s name is synonymous with the provision of federal law that prohibits Medicaid from paying for abortions in all but the most extreme and rare circumstances. The provision has been in existence for thirty years now, which means for thirty years, Henry Hyde (and the rest of Congress that has gone along with him and/or taken up his cause since his retirement) has forced poor women to delay abortions, to use money for other necessities like food or shelter to pay for abortions, or to carry to term and have unwanted children.

The always useful Guttmacher Institute has a good article that reviews the history and impact of the Hyde Amendment. Some lowlights:

The current version of the Hyde Amendment, established in 1997, allows federal funding for abortion in cases of rape and incest, as well as life endangerment, but tightens the life exception to permit payment only when the woman’s life is threatened by “physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.”

At the state level, 17 states currently have a policy to use their own funds to pay for all or most medically necessary abortions sought by Medicaid recipients.

[O]ver the years, Congress has enacted legislation essentially banning abortion funding for other large groups of Americans dependent on the federal government for their health care or health insurance, ranging from federal employees and military personnel to women in federal prisons and low-income residents of the District of Columbia.

Poor women take up to three weeks longer than other women to obtain an abortion. Little wonder that, according to a 2004 Guttmacher study published in Contraception, 67% of poor women having an abortion say they would have preferred to have had the abortion earlier [when abortions are safer and less costly].

[P]oor women who are able to raise the money needed for an abortion often do so at great sacrifice to themselves and their families. Studies indicate that many such women are forced to divert money meant for rent, utility bills, food or clothing for themselves and their children.

Studies published over the course of two decades looking at a number of states concluded that 18–35% of women who would have had an abortion continued their pregnancies after Medicaid funding was cut off.

In short, the amount of pain and misery Henry Hyde has inflicted on this nation’s women is immeasurably large.

– David S. Cohen

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