If You Care About Women’s Health, You Should Give A Sh*t About This Amendment

by Alexandra Svokos

The Hyde Amendment sounds like something you’d memorize for AP US History and immediately forget after the test.

It’s been in the news lately after Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both said they would work to get rid of the amendment should one of them become president.

Given how the name sounds, it’s easy to ignore those stances. But if you give a sh*t about women’s health care and abortion access, you have to give a sh*t about the Hyde Amendment.

The Hyde Amendment is all about controlling who has access to abortions. It bars the government from using federal funds through Medicaid for abortions except in the cases of rape, incest and medical threats to the mother’s life.

This means women on Medicaid -- health care for low-income people -- have to pay the full price for an abortion, which can range from a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars. This largely affects women of color and young women.

While private health insurance can cover abortions, low-income women face this extra barrier, on top of all the other ways lawmakers try to keep women from undergoing the procedure.

To pay for their abortions, women have resorted to getting behind on rent, selling possessions, skipping groceries and making other sacrifices. These efforts can make women put off having an abortion -- which makes the procedure more costly and potentially dangerous as the pregnancy goes on.

Destiny Lopez, co-director of All* Above All, explained the amendment was made by Henry Hyde, a Republican member of Congress who was anti-abortion and wanted to make abortions completely illegal.

But in 1973, the Supreme Court ruled abortions could not be made illegal in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

Three years later in 1976, Hyde came up with the amendment. Lopez said:

[Hyde] realized the only way he could really impact abortion laws was to cut it off for poor and low-income women through the Medicaid program.

The Hyde Amendment is a rider in the annual appropriations bill, so Congress votes on it every single year when voting on budgeting and funds. Not only does it keep getting passed but since 1976, restrictions have expanded so funds can’t be used toward abortions for federal workers and women in the military, peace corps and federal prisons.

Hyde covers federal Medicaid, but states can use their own funds to pay for abortions if they choose to. There are 17 states that use their money to help cover abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

One of those states is New Jersey. About 65 percent of patients at the Cherry Hill Women’s Center in central Jersey are on Medicaid, Jenifer Groves, executive director, told me during a visit last fall.

Amanda Kifferly, director of patient advocacy for the Women’s Centers, is appreciative Medicaid is an option for New Jersey patients. This week, she told me:

I’m glad we can use the resources our state has to make sure our patients are able to make a true decision about whether or not they can get an abortion.

In patient advocacy, Kifferly helps patients find funding for their abortions. They work with the National Abortion Federation to see if patients can get discounts on the procedure. The Women’s Medical Fund and National Network of Abortion Funds also help pay for abortions.

Although Kifferly is proud to help women find ways to pay for abortions, she wishes her work wasn’t necessary:

Ideally that’s what we’re doing here; we want to advocate ourselves out of a job.

Lopez at All* Above All echoed that sentiment, as her work revolves around ending the Hyde Amendment. She said:

We all would like to work ourselves out of a job.

If Hillary or Bernie can’t do it, there are some other possibilities that’d help get Kifferly and Lopez happily unemployed.

The EACH Woman Act was introduced in Congress last summer and now has over 100 sponsors. It would make sure all women can get coverage for abortions.

That act was largely supported by women of color, who have played a large role in pushing to end the Hyde Amendment. Lopez said:

We know the Hyde Amendment disproportionately affects our communities.

Lopez and Kifferly agree repealing or undoing the effects of the Hyde Amendment would be a great first step, but even then they’d still have work to do to help women get equal access to abortions without unnecessary barriers.

Given the state of abortion access in America right now, if you can get the cost of the procedure paid for, you’d still have a ton of costs including transportation, child care, time off from work and hotel stays.

Looks like Lopez and Kifferly won’t be out of a job for a while.