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The Future of the Hyde Amendment: Learning from Our Past to Build Our Movement

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Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) played a key role in turning me into a reproductive health activist. The Amendment that he authored restricting Medicaid funding of abortion made it almost impossible for me to obtain an abortion at the tender age of twelve. My mother was able to scrape together the money, but not without making huge financial sacrifices that affected our household for months.

The 1976 Hyde Amendment, and other funding bans that followed, have had a devastating impact on families like mine, which are some of the most vulnerable in our society. With the cascade of restrictions on reproductive health care over the past few decades, many people have recognized that the Hyde Amendment was the first step in the anti-choice movement’s broader strategy to ban abortion and regulate all women’s bodies by chipping away at our reproductive rights.

The Choice Movement Responds…or Does It?

The fact that the Hyde Amendment is still in effect 30 years later represents a key failure of the choice movement. Time and again, women of color activists and supportive allies have voiced the need to work actively toward the repeal of these despicable funding bans. Much to our dismay, some pro-choice leaders have told us everything from “it’s not the right time,” to “it’s a losing fight.” This kind of response has contributed to the relegation of marginalized women to the fringes of the movement and in a way, has conspired with Congress to confirm that only women with economic means truly have the right to an abortion.

Women of color activists took matters into their own hands in 1993 by launching the Campaign for Abortion and Reproductive Equity. Led by the National Black Women’s Health Project, the CARE Campaign pressured Congress to rescind the Hyde Amendment. Although we succeeded in restoring funding for abortions that resulted from rape or threatened a woman’s health, we fell short of our ultimate goal of ensuring that all women have access to the abortion care they need.

The National Network of Abortion Funds, an association of grassroots groups that helps low-income women pay for abortions, launched the Campaign for Access and Reproductive Equity 2000 seven years later. The focus this time was not only on federal funding for abortion, but on a full range of reproductive health and justice issues.

CARE 2000 realized some important successes. It was able to bring some larger groups like Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Guttmacher Institute, and the National Abortion Federation to the table. The campaign’s broader focus opened the door for cross-issue organizing. Abortion funding was linked to economic justice, welfare reform, HIV/AIDS and sexuality education, and health care access in general. CARE 2000 raised awareness in Congress and the general public about the Hyde Amendment and other restrictive laws. Still, the goal of overturning the Amendment was not achieved.

Looking Ahead—30 Years is Enough!

This year, NNAF has joined with allies nationwide to launch the Hyde—30 Years is Enough! campaign. The campaign is raising money to help women harmed by the Hyde Amendment. It is also advocating for full public funding of abortion in the context of health care for all and for the right of low-income women to care for their children with dignity. As with CARE 2000, this campaign is nationwide and multi-issue. The coalition includes groups working on health care access, social and economic justice, and human rights. From our work on the CARE 2000 and 30 Years is Enough! campaigns, NNAF has learned many lessons. Two stand out as most important:

  • A successful attempt to restore public funding will require a strong and sustained grassroots approach. The women most impacted by the Hyde Amendment should be at the center of any campaign for its repeal. Low-income women, women of color, and young women, should be encouraged to become spokespeople and play a pivotal role in shaping reproductive health policies. We should include women who have not traditionally been a part of the movement, such as women who live on public assistance, work low-wage jobs, and call on abortion funds for support. A serious grassroots approach means that we take the time to figure out concrete ways to support women who are willing to tell their stories, but fear community and/or family backlash. For example, a woman might not be willing to show her face in public, but she might give permission for her story to be the basis of a fundraising letter.
  • A movement to restore public funding must address broader reproductive health inequities. Just as a woman must have the right to terminate a pregnancy, she must also have the right to carry a pregnancy to term. Included in the right to motherhood is the social and economic support necessary to have a healthy pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Beyond having the child, a woman must also be able to achieve the human right to quality—not just adequate—health care, safe and affordable housing, employment with a livable wage, and freedom from sexual, domestic, and community violence.

Sounds like a big job—it is. Yet it’s one that can be achieved with a strategic plan and a commitment to:

  • Build the capacity of groups needed to do the organizing.
  • Formulate strategic initiatives to engage constituencies from varying populations.
  • Train constituencies to be both spokespersons and change agents on their own behalf.
  • Craft and drive strategic policy initiatives that make it possible for women to lead healthy reproductive lives.
  • Gain trust and commitment from the funding community.
  • Encourage non-traditional groups to bring their new visions, new methods of organizing and mobilization, and new leadership to the table.

The time is now. As he prepares to retire, Henry Hyde has issued one last parting shot. Rep. Hyde has sponsored the Federal Election Integrity Act of 2006, which would require all registered voters to produce government-issued photo identification to be allowed to vote. In other words, he is once again targeting the most vulnerable people and making it significantly more difficult for them to exercise their constitutional rights. After wrecking havoc on the lives of women for three decades, Mr. Hyde may now add to his legacy the oppression of immigrants, low-income people, and other marginalized communities. Hasn’t Mr. Hyde damaged enough lives already? We must see to it that his legacy will not last.

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Toni M. Bond Leonard is the Board President of the National Network of Abortion Funds and the Co-Founder, President & CEO African American Women Evolving, a grassroots women of color reproductive justice organization based in Chicago, Illinois.

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