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Debra L. Ness, President

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The Hyde Amendment Continues to Punish Our Country’s Most Vulnerable Women

September 29, 2017 | Health Care | Reproductive Health

Cross-posted from HuffPost.

In many ways, our country is facing some of its toughest times right now, with an administration and leaders in both chambers of Congress whose positions and policies reflect cruel disregard for people who are poor and vulnerable – and often are grounded in blatant misogyny. The viciousness and ferocity of their anti-woman, anti-worker, anti-immigrant agenda has been a shocking departure from the actions of previous leaders, even those with whom we mostly disagreed. It should be no surprise, then, that our opponents’ actions have unleashed resistance like this country has not seen in decades.

The strength of that resistance, and the diverse, powerful leaders who are driving it, will shape our future. I have confidence in the resistance because I have confidence in my country – and I believe real success must go beyond defeating the dangerous and destructive policies proposed by those who hold power now. We also must reassess all our laws, programs and priorities so we become the country we’ve always wanted to be – one that is free, fair and just, where nobody has to experience discrimination and all families have a real chance to thrive.

We will never be that kind of country as long as punitive, discriminatory policies like the Hyde amendment are on the books. For 41 long years, this shameful policy has penalized low-income women by withholding coverage for abortion care from those enrolled in Medicaid, who are disproportionately women of color. The Hyde amendment makes abortion care unaffordable for most of them and unattainable for much too many.

The politicians who wrote and keep reaffirming Hyde, year after year, apparently believe the amount of money a woman has should determine her access to health care – that if you are poor, politicians should be able to deny you essential health care and take away your ability to decide if, when and how to grow your family.

It’s long past time to wipe this policy off the books and to say, loudly and clearly, that treating people differently because they are struggling to make ends meet is antithetical to our country’s values. Lawmakers in Congress and states across the country should follow the lead of state advocates calling for laws like the one recently enacted in Oregon. Its Reproductive Health Equity Act of 2017 (RHEA) requires most insurers to provide no co-pay coverage for abortion care, along with full coverage for other reproductive health needs. RHEA, which prohibits discriminating on the basis of gender identity or immigration status, is truly a model for the nation. Along with recent abortion coverage wins in Illinois and New York, it is showing us the path forward.

This matters because women's access to abortion care is essential not just to our health and well-being but also to our ability to pursue an education, hold jobs, support our families, achieve economic security, and function as free and equal members of society. Without access to abortion care, all that is in jeopardy.

So stopping the political interference in women’s decision-making must be a priority, as must enacting laws that support expecting and new parents, especially those who are low-income. Without that, women are forced into an impossible double bind when they cannot make the decision that is best for them about whether to have a child – and then are denied the workplace supports they need during and after pregnancy. It’s ironic that, by and large, the same politicians who support Hyde are the ones who drag their feet when asked to guarantee paid family and medical leave, paid sick days and pregnancy accommodations.

Making life better – not harder – for those who struggle the most must be the role and goal of the government that emerges when this fight is over. We must end the days when our government denies resources and supports to those in greatest need; coerces, shames and blocks women’s decisions; and creates barriers that cause women in poverty and women of color to suffer the most.

That’s what the resistance is aiming for. We heard it at the historic Women’s March in January and we’ll hear it at the March for Black Women and the March for Racial Justice this weekend. And we must prevail, because this really is a struggle for our country’s soul – a time when we must recommit to, not abandon, our core values.


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