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Decades After Roe v. Wade, Reproductive Rights Need The Bold Substantial Commitments We Were Promised

On Friday President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris dropped a statement commemorating the 48th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade — a case that established that abortion access was protected under the 14th amendment and that a pregnant person’s decision about what happens with their pregnancy should be between themselves and their doctors.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to codifying Roe v. Wade and appointing judges that respect foundational precedents like Roe,” per the statement. “We are also committed to ensuring that we work to eliminate maternal and infant health disparities, increase access to contraception, and support families economically so that all parents can raise their families with dignity.  This commitment extends to our critical work on health outcomes around the world.”

After four years of a decidedly anti-choice White House, any acknowledgement of the importance of this day and these rights is something reproductive rights and justice-minded folks are conditioned to be extremely grateful to get. Finally, a human response to people desperately needing healthcare! Yet, turning these ideals from platitudes that drift out of our minds as the news cycle ambles on to meaningful legislative changes that expand our rights (and reverse the harm of the thousands of state-level abortion restrictions passed since 1973) is going to take vigilance and critical attention. We’ll need a bit more here. 

Which is why, it’s imperative that we collectively, as Biden and Harris’ statement say, “rededicate ourselves to ensuring that all individuals have access to the health care they need.” And that also means we’ll need to do things like actually say the word “abortion” in statements commemorating a landmark abortion case (which this statement did not do — Command + F it, I looked!) — and that anything less than a full-throated commitment to reproductive healthcare access for all Americans “regardless of income, race, zip code, health insurance status, or immigration status” is unacceptable.

So in 2021, after years of outright hostility toward reproductive rights (with countless of anti-choice judges appointed to the courts), it’s time to really examine what dedication to this cause looks and sounds like. And, as the Biden campaign promised during the election cycle, it is time to finally, at long last see the end of the Hyde Amendment.

What is the Hyde Amendment?

The Hyde Amendment is “language in the yearly Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (often shortened to Labor-H or LHHS) appropriations legislation that bars programs in these agencies from covering abortion. This restriction primarily withholds abortion coverage from those qualified and enrolled in the Medicaid health insurance program for low-income people, except in the limited cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment,” per reproductive justice group All Above All.

It’s a temporary rider (meaning it’s not actually codified into law) thrown into the budget legislation like an afterthought that fundamentally changes the way a good number of our population can (or cannot) access abortion healthcare. And it sucks.

This means that people insured by Medicaid or Medicare or federal government insurance are blocked from using this “federal money” to pay for a legal, valid healthcare procedure — they are low-income people (disproportionately people of color), they are disabled people, they are veterans, Native Americans, federal employees, military personnel, Peace Corp volunteers, low-income residents of Washington, D.C. and federal prisoners and detainees.  And, per the Kaiser Family Foundation,  Hyde’s reach also touched the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as it “also included a provision that applied similar abortion coverage limitations to plans that are sold through the Marketplace for women who receive federal income-based subsidies to purchase private health insurance.”

And when there are unreasonable and insurmountable economic obstacles to getting abortions, safe access is nearly eliminated (and that just means abortions get less safe). As reproductive health policy organization Guttmacher Institute notes, “When people are denied insurance coverage of abortion, cost can be a significant barrier to timely and affordable care. On average, an abortion at 10 weeks costs around $500, and the cost increases over time. Associated expenses (such as travel, childcare and time off from work) as well as other abortion restrictions also increase the barriers to care…People struggling to pay for abortion care report diverting money from other urgent needs such as paying rent and utilities or even feeding their family.”

While there are a number of states that reduce the impact of this Amendment by using their own funds to provide Medicaid coverage of abortion, 55 percent of the reproductive age people (something like 7.3 million people, with 3 million living below the federal poverty line) who can get pregnant residing “in the District of Columbia or one of the 35 states that does not cover abortion except in very limited circumstances.”

The proposed legislation to reverse Hyde, The Equal Access to Abortion Coverage In Health Insurance (EACH) Woman Act, first introduced in 2015  both “sets up the federal government as a standard-bearer, ensuring that every woman who receives care or insurance through the federal government will have coverage for abortion services” and “prohibits political interference with decisions by private health insurance companies to offer coverage for abortion care,” according to All Above All.

What can we expect from this administration?

While the first days of the Biden administration brought the anticipated reversal of the Mexico City Policy (a policy known as the Global Gag Rule that cuts U.S. funding from international organizations that provide, advocate for or refer people for abortions) via executive order. This move, while important for setting the standard as an administration that values science, sexual health education and equitable access to reproductive health services, is one that was anticipated to happen when a Democrat next entered the White House. Think of it as the ground-level move for reproductive rights and justice policy — a good start.

As we mentioned above, Biden made public that his feelings on the Hyde Amendment had changed while speaking at an Atlanta-based Democratic National Committee gala in June: “If I believe health care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone’s ZIP code,” Biden said, per the New York Times.

Nonetheless, day one in office and we already saw some disturbing signs of walking back on this campaign promise. As The Independent reports, Biden’s Press Secretary Jen Psaki responded to a question about the Hyde repeal by acknowledging plans to address the Global Gag Rule — but dodged the Hyde issue by adding “But I will just take the opportunity to remind all of you that [Biden] is a devout Catholic, and somebody who attends church regularly.” (Which is just an irrelevant piece of information as far as legislation further disenfranchising millions of vulnerable people.)

It’s time to call on our representatives and the executive branch to stand by the promises they made and the values they preached during the election cycle — to put an end the Hyde Amendment once and for all. Voters that value reproductive rights and justice came out to support the Biden-Harris ticket to see bold and ethical expansions to healthcare access in this country — and, after all we’ve been through, our most vulnerable cannot and will not be left behind again.

Before you go, check out our dive into the six orgasms you didn’t know you could have


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