In 1977, 27-year-old Rosaura Jiménez needed an abortion. Four years after Roe v. Wade, the procedure was legal in the United States, but there wasn't necessarily equal access to it: The Hyde Amendment, passed by Congress in 1976, barred federal Medicaid funds from being used for abortion. Jiménez, a college student and single mother, was enrolled in Medicaid, but turned away by a local doctor in her hometown of McAllen, Texas. Unable to afford an abortion in the United States, she went to Mexico for an illegal procedure and died seven days later from complications, becoming the first-known victim of the Hyde Amendment. On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives went a few steps further than the Hyde Amendment in passing HR7 — the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act.
House Republicans replaced their contentious 20-week abortion ban with the omnibus bill restricting abortion coverage as a last-minute attempt to pass an anti-abortion bill on the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. "This was a bait-and-switch that occurred under cover of darkness," Jessica González-Rojas, Executive Director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, told Bustle in an email. "It's unacceptable."
Variations of HR7 have been making their way through Congress since 2011, and a similar bill was passed by the House in 2014. But HR7 may just be the most extreme version yet. The bill would not only permanently bar federal funds from covering abortion — making the Hyde Amendment a lasting law — but also ban health facilities, including those on military bases, from offering abortion services; make it illegal to use tax credits to purchase private health insurance for abortion; raise taxes on small-business owners who offer insurance plans covering abortion; bar abortion coverage in multistate insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act; and prohibit Medicaid-funded abortions in Washington, D.C.
So what does all that mean? Essentially, millions of women who are either enrolled in Medicaid, federal employees, service members, Peace Corps members, live in Washington, D.C., or receive health insurance through the federal government or a multistate exchange will have to pay out-of-pocket for an abortion.
"This is a sweeping ban on abortion coverage and another mean-spirited attempt to interfere with a woman’s personal decision-making," Miriam Yeung, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, said Thursday in a statement.
Other reproductive rights activists, policy directors, and politicians echoed the sentiment. Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Moore chastised her colleagues for enabling the "divisive culture wars of the past" and penalizing millions of small businesses for providing comprehensive health coverage to their female employees. Meanwhile, National Abortion Federation President Vicki Saporta called the House vote "politics at its worst."
President Obama promised on Thursday to veto the bill if it reaches his desk. The executive office of the president released a statement following the passage of the bill, calling it an intrusion "on women's reproductive freedom and access to health care." The executive office also harshly criticized the bill for "interfering with consumers' private health care choices."
Under the Hyde Amendment, federal funds are already barred from covering abortion, unless in the cases of rape, incest, or if a woman's life or health is at risk. However, representatives for Planned Parenthood say HR7 has virtually no exemptions for abortions to protect a woman's health, even in life-threatening circumstances. There's also no exemption for fetal impairment. Planned Parenthood estimates that the bill would force women to pay thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for a critical procedure.
But beyond the typical exceptions, many reproductive rights activists believe any ban on abortion coverage is dangerous to women, as well as discriminatory against the poor. According to González-Rojas, bills such as HR7 undermine "the very premise of Roe and denies care to low-income women."
Currently, just 15 states allow their Medicaid funds to be used on abortion, leaving a majority of low-income women without any type of coverage. Women who cannot afford an abortion are then faced with a larger burden of raising the funds themselves before time runs out. Recent research from the Guttmacher Institute found that when Medicaid is restricted, one in four low-income women are forced to carry their pregnancies to term.
Saporta also predicted that most of the roughly 5,000 women who call the National Abortion Federation hotline each week, already unable to cover the full cost of an abortion, will be severely impacted by HR7.
Many policy directors say bans on abortion coverage disproportionately affect women of color, and HR7 is no different. According to the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, one in five Southeast Asians and one in seven Native Hawaiians currently use Medicaid funds. Latinas, too, may receive the brunt of the bill's impact, and González-Rojas believes the bill would "undoubtedly fall hardest on Latinas and other women of color." She added:
In fact, more than 2/3 Latinas already lack coverage for abortion services and more are under attack by bills like these. These kind of mean-spirited bans on insurance coverage for abortion deny care to women already struggling to make ends meet.
With abortion clinics shuttering across the South and Midwest at an alarming rate, thousands of American women now have to travel several hundred miles round-trip for an abortion. Hotel rooms, gas money, childcare expenses, and the cost of the procedure itself all add up — in many cases to a price women simply can't afford.Images: Getty Images (3)