Hyde Matters: Reproductive Justice and Women of Color

The Hyde Amendment was “designed to deprive poor and minority women of the constitutional right to c...

The Hyde Amendment was “designed to deprive poor and minority women of the constitutional right to choose abortion” – Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Yesterday I attended the “Separate and Unequal: The Hyde Amendment and Women of Color” panel at the Center for American Progress (CAP). I walked away feeling more knowledgeable and equipped to discuss the issue of reproductive service access with other women. Whenever I walk into a space set-up to discuss issues impacting people of color in DC, I look for people of color. In this case I was looking for women of color. As soon as I walked in I saw a good friend and fellow woman of color who organizes for reproductive rights in the faith community. I also saw two Black women around my age (both actually work at CAP). I looked around some more and saw two or three more seasoned Black women in the room. After that I counted the number of rows and chairs in each row. Out of a room of 80 or so people, 9 were African American women and 2 Asian women. I know of at least 2 Latina’s in the room. The rest of the room was composed of primarily White women and men involved in the reproductive rights/justice movement.

So what is the Hyde Amendment?
Passed by Congress in 1976, the Hyde Amendment bans abortion care funding for Medicaid recipients in most circumstances.

What is Medicaid?
Medicaid is the federally and state funded health-care program for low-income individuals and families.
Women of color, particularly Black and Latina women, are more likely to rely on federal-state supported programs (e.g. Medicaid) for reproductive services. The most recent census data shows that 25.8 percent of African Americans, 25.3 percent of Hispanics are poor compared 12.3 percent of Whites and 12.5 percent of Asians. The Hyde Amendment is a direct attack on the choices of low-income women, particularly women of color. Congressman Hyde attacked a basic civil right. Rep. Hyde admitted:
I’ll certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the …Medicaid bill –U.S Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL)
By intentionally targeting the most vulnerable group of women, those who often have to choose between paying bills and paying for an abortion, Congressman Hyde attacked a basic civil right. We could argue the morality of abortion until we turn blue in the face, however it is a constitutional right. The erosion of this constitutional right is a slippery slope starting in Black and Brown wombs. Women choose (or are forced to choose) to terminate a pregnancy for different reasons. While the Hyde Amendment allows for Medicaid to fund abortion care in the event of rape and/incest; in practice this does not always happen. The panelists cited lower and slower reimbursement rates as reasons many providers simply refused to accept Medicaid payments for abortion care.

This isn’t an issue of citizens paying for abortion when they actually oppose it. This amendment was simply about diminishing the choices women can make. We fund wars, banks and prisons over education; all of to which I am fervently opposed.

So why hasn’t this policy been aggressively attacked by the larger reproductive justice movement? Well as Toni Bond Leonard, President and CEO of Black Women for Reproductive Justice, pointed out; we have been told to wait. Low-income and women of color have been told to wait. The issue of the Hyde Amendment has been pushed back in the larger reproductive rights movement. The reality faced by women of color presented with a difficult choice simply hasn’t mattered enuf. Advocacy organizations are slowly shifting to a reproductive justice framework. Once we begin to integrate systems of oppression such as racism and classism into any policy fight, things begin to get real and require power shifts. Any movement aimed at achieving reproductive justice, not just laws on the books, for the most marginalized women must have those same women in the forefront. We would be forced to undergo a real power analysis. The panelists and audience readily conceded to and asserted that position. Unfortunately the faces in the room and the movement don’t reflect those sentiments. To concede and/or share power and leadership in the fight for reproductive choice threatens traditional groups. We also saw much of this dynamic in the broader women’s rights movement.

Toni Bond Leonard painted a quick picture of the moment African women landed in this country last night. From the introduction of the African women to the Americas as slaves, our wombs have been subject to the control and influence of others. Slave women were expected and forced to breed, yes breed. Once it was decided that they no longer had to reproduce (post-slavery) new tactics aimed to reduce pregnancy were introduced. The arch of reproductive control bends strongly away from women. The repeal of the Hyde Amendment would serve as a first step in pealing away the layers of control women of color are unwillingly cloaked under.

So why does Hyde matter? As a young woman any policy dealing with what I can and cannot do with my body is important to me. We have a duty to be engaged in this movement. We also have the right to demand a voice whenever anyone attempts to quiet our stories or devalue our experiences. Hyde matters for me, you and the daughters we may choose have in the future.
A free woman has the ability and power to choose.

Click here to read the Center for American Progress report “Separate and Unequal: The Hyde Amendment and Women of Color”

Charlene Carruthers is an activist, writer and youth organizer. A native of Chicago, Charlene is seeker of freedom, love and justice. Mostly recently at the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law, her work has focused on working with communities of color and women to transform communities. She currently lives in Washington, DC, you can find her on twitter @NvrComfortable and at www.freedomlovejustice.com.

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