During his presidential campaign, Mr. Obama came out against Hyde, saying that the federal government should not use its dollars to intrude upon a poor woman’s decision whether or not to carry her pregnancy to term or to selectively withhold benefits because she seeks to that exercise in a manner that the government disapproves. We ask that the President take action and rescind the policy in keeping with his previously stated beliefs.
For thirty-six years, women in this country have had the right to obtain safe, legal abortion. But since 1977 when Hyde was first enacted, low-income women have been deprived of that right by anti-choice politicians intent on doing away with a woman’s access to abortion altogether.
The Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funds from being used to pay for abortion except under extremely limited circumstances. As a result, a woman who relies on Medicaid cannot get an abortion in most circumstances:even if her health is jeopardized by her pregnancy:unless she is able to cover the entire cost out-of-pocket. Similar restrictions have been imposed on women who rely on the health benefits provided to federal employees, military personnel and their dependents, women served by the Indian Health Service, Peace Corps volunteers, Medicare enrollees, women in federal prisons, and low-income women in the District of Columbia.
These restrictions patently discriminate against women. Abortion is a health service only used by women, and it is the only medically necessary service not covered by Medicaid for instance. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonpartisan research organization, as many as 35% of women who are eligible for the program and seeking an abortion are prevented from making the personal decision about their own lives and forced to carry their pregnancies to term. On the other hand, virtually all other health services are covered.
Since Medicaid is the primary provider of reproductive healthcare for low-income minority communities, Hyde also disproportionately affects women of color. Many of these women are already struggling with the challenges of supporting a family on limited resources and now, the ever-growing burden of the economic recession.
Under Hyde, a poor woman must often delay obtaining a medically necessary abortion while she tries to raise the funds. The longer she waits, the more it costs and the greater the risks to her health.
President Barack Obama’s leadership provides a tremendous opportunity for the U.S. government to stop excluding women’s specific healthcare needs from federal health programs based on political preferences and join the 17 states across the country that pay for poor women’s medically necessary abortions. As the California Supreme Court ruled in 1981,”There is no greater power than the power of the purse. If the government can use it to nullify constitutional rights, by conditioning benefits only upon the sacrifice of such rights, the Bill of Rights could eventually become a yellowing scrap of paper. Once the state furnishes medical care to poor women in general, it cannot withdraw part of that care solely because a woman exercises her constitutional right to choose an abortion.”
Roe v. Wade recognized that a woman’s ability to make reproductive decisions essential to her life and health. On the day commemorating this landmark case, the Center for Reproductive Rights urges the new president to protect the dignity and health of all women by striking restrictions on public funding for medically necessary abortions.
–Nancy Northup, President Center for Reproductive Rights