Forty years ago, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, which made it illegal for federal funds to be used for abortion. Except in cases of rape, incest, or imminent life-threatening harm to the mother, federal money still can't be used to provide abortions, meaning that millions of women on Medicaid, along with Native American women, federal employees, military personnel, Peace Corps volunteers, and low-income residents of Washington, D.C., have all faced not being able to receive an abortion because of their health care coverage. That's wrong for a lot of reasons. Even if you aren't one of those women directly affected by it, you should support the repeal of the Hyde Amendment because it damages one of the most important American values and systematically discriminates against the poor.
Those most heavily impacted by the Hyde Amendment are women on Medicaid, the government's health insurance program for people with low incomes. By enforcing the Hyde Amendment and barring poor women from accessing abortion care when they need it, the government gets even more say over certain women's bodies, which is already too much. "Elected officials need to stay out of women’s private health care decisions," Rep. Barbara Lee, a lead sponsor of the EACH Woman Act, tells Bustle. "It is outrageous to have elected officials in the middle of it."
The federal government should not be allowed to foist moral values on anyone, even those who rely on its monetary support, and that's what the Hyde Amendment does. A woman's reliance on Medicaid does not entitle voters or legislators to tell her what she can and cannot do with her body, and by enforcing the Hyde Amendment, the federal government is actively taking away people's rights and discriminating by socioeconomic status.
Abortion access is a public health matter. When people don't have access to safe and legal abortion, that doesn't stop them from trying to terminate a pregnancy, it only pushes them to more desperate and riskier methods of doing it. According to the World Health Organization, over 53 million abortions occur around the world per year, and nearly half are considered unsafe. In the United States, right now, abortion is actually safer than giving birth, according to a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology. Unsafe abortions lead to alarming rates of maternal mortality, and that's not a future that the United States wants to see.
There are also reasons why it's actually beneficial for the government to support abortion, too. According to the Donohue-Levitt Hypothesis, abortion access reduces crime because women who would have accessed abortions but couldn't are the ones least prepared or able to take care of a child, which can, according to the theory, lead the child into a life of crime. After Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, crime rates plummeted in the mid-1990s — according to Donohue and Levitt, that happened because the first generation that had safe and legal access to abortion care didn't have to become mothers before they were ready or able.
Even if you are morally or religiously opposed to abortion, it should be clear that limiting a person's bodily autonomy via the Hyde Amendment is a violation of their inherent rights as a person. Anti-abortion activists have the right to try to convince people that abortion is wrong, but they don't have the right to mandate what women do with their bodies. You can counsel people or provide support for women when they ask for it, but forcing them to act in accordance with your own beliefs tramples their free will.
The reality is that abortion is necessary for a healthy society. A healthy society means a lot of things, but primarily, it's one that respects everyone's right to make their own decisions for their body, no matter their socioeconomic status. The Hyde Amendment limits the freedom of choice for all women, but most unjustly affects the poor and disadvantages women who can't afford to raise a child in the safe and healthy environment it deserves.
If you're well off and can access abortion care easily whenever you need it, it's easy to see this as a non-pressing issue. But in fact, it's one of the most pressing feminist issues of this era. Securing a true right to abortion access is not only a good thing for the country as a whole, but a way to strengthen this society and give back some of the self-respect and dignity that those affected by the Hyde Amendment have been denied for far too long.
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