Hearing Faith Voices Raised Against Hyde

A sign says "We Can Do It" inside a clinic room at Whole Woman's Health, one of the few abortion providers left in Texas, at their San Antonio clinic on June 1, 2016.

See also:

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, an anti-abortion rider almost as old as the legal right to an abortion. The Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funding from paying for abortion services except in very limited cases of rape, incest, or endangerment of the mother’s life. This means that commonly used, federally funded insurance programs, such as Medicaid, cannot cover abortion procedures. Hyde was first introduced in 1976, only three years after the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing  the right to abortion in Roe v. Wade, in an explicit attempt to restrict abortion access. Congress has passed the amendment every year since as part of the appropriations process. Not all women are treated equally under Hyde; it disproportionately hurts those who are most vulnerable.

Abortion restrictions such as Hyde are dangerous for women

Already marginalized women feel Hyde’s impact the most. On average, an abortion procedure costs between $500 and $1500. Most enrollees in federal insurance programs have limited incomes, which makes affording abortions out of pocket difficult, if not impossible. Research shows that approximately one in four women living in poverty who would have an abortion if Medicaid funding were available are instead forced to carry their pregnancy to term. What should be an easy-to-access, safe, and legal medical procedure has turned into a luxury that only some women can afford. Furthermore, Hyde’s repercussions fall hardest on our nation’s most vulnerable women: women of color; immigrant women; transgender and gender nonconforming individuals; Native American women; military women; and young women.

Hyde is even more harmful when paired with other obstacles to reproductive health care and economic security. Many states, for example, have passed laws that increase the financial burden of obtaining already expensive abortions. Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider, or TRAP, laws are bills that single out abortion providers and subject them to regulations that are more stringent than those applied to general medical clinics. Disguised as a way to protect women’s health, TRAP laws have forced many U.S. abortion clinics to close, which means that some women must travel hundreds of miles to reach an abortion clinic. TRAP laws and other restrictions—such as mandatory counseling, waiting periods, age restrictions, and gestational limits—all contribute to increased abortion costs because women have to factor in paying for travel, accommodations, child care, and missed time at work. What’s more, because of the gender wage gap, women on average make only 80 percent of what their male counterparts make. The wage gap is higher for women of color, who are more likely to rely on federal insurance plans in the first place. This only heightens the financial struggles that women with federal insurance plans face when seeking an abortion that, because of Hyde, is not covered.

There is broad support—including from faith traditions—for repealing Hyde

For decades, abortion restrictions such as Hyde have created the impression that there is only one religious viewpoint regarding reproductive rights: to restrict them as much as possible. This is false. Many faith traditions support access to abortion and allowing all insurance to cover the full range of reproductive health care. In the recent U.S. Supreme Court case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a number of religious organizations and individual religious leaders joined an amicus brief highlighting that many faith traditions recognize and support each woman’s moral authority to make decisions about her pregnancy according to her own faith and conscience. The Religious Institute, for example, “calls for a faith-based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights, including widespread access to safe, legal abortion services.”

Hyde ignores the diversity of faith traditions present in the United States, instead enshrining one set of religious beliefs into law. This is a barrier to advancing progressive religious liberty. In a time when religious liberty is regularly used to discriminate, it is imperative that U.S. law does not impose one religious viewpoint on the entire nation, particularly when women’s health and wellbeing hang in the balance.

The EACH Woman Act

After four decades, the Hyde Amendment’s repeal is long past due. If passed by Congress, the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance, or EACH Woman, Act would guarantee that women insured through federal programs would receive coverage for abortion care. This includes women on Medicaid, federal employees, women in the military, Native Americans insured through the Indian Health Service, Peace Corp volunteers, and women in federal prisons and detention centers. It would also block federal, state, and local government efforts to interfere with abortion coverage through the private insurance market.

The EACH Woman Act was introduced in July 2015 with the support of more than 70 congressional sponsors and 36 organizations committed to women’s health, rights, and justice. This week, many Americans—including people of faith—are showing their support for the EACH Woman Act through participation in a United for Abortion Coverage Week of Action. Thirty-six national faith organizations sent a letter to Congress urging them to pass the EACH Woman Act, stating, “The EACH Woman Act would respect each woman’s ability to make her own faith-informed or conscience-based decisions about pregnancy, ensuring she can afford to obtain safe medical care—however much she earns, no matter how she is insured, and wherever she lives.” The moral call to help those who are marginalized and to pursue economic justice is a further reason that faith communities support the EACH Woman Act.

As numerous barriers remain to all people receiving necessary reproductive health care and achieving economic security, repealing the Hyde Amendment is more important than ever. It would ensure that women regardless of their source of insurance and ZIP code have affordable access to abortion care. This is a policy change that would benefit nearly 29 million women and is an imperative step to ensuring that any woman seeking an abortion can do so affordably, safely, and in a timely manner.

Tracy Wolf is the Research Assistant for the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress.