Jesus Wouldn't Support the Hyde Amendment

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by Rev. Faye London

The Hyde Amendment, a federal policy passed by Congress each year that prevents Medicaid from covering abortion for low-income women, has been in the news in recent weeks and months. As we near September 30th, which marks the 40th year of the Hyde Amendment, it’s worth re-examining this policy from a faith perspective.

As a Christian, I am particularly fascinated by politicians who cite their faith as the source of their views on this issue. There are those who oppose the Hyde Amendment and all similarly needless restrictions on abortion, those for whom faith dictates a consistent commitment to protecting women’s health and securing our rights. At the other end of the spectrum are the biggest proponents of Hyde, who usually oppose abortion altogether and therefore support the proliferation of policies that make it harder and harder to get.

But what fascinates me the most are those politicians who support abortion rights, yet also through their faith find cause to justify the Hyde Amendment. It is to those—perhaps well-meaning, likely misguided—folks that I address this message.

As a progressive Christian faith leader, I am guided by scripture and my own deep faith to believe a better world and brighter tomorrow are possible. As a Black woman whose ministry is primarily with low-income people of color in the South, I am realistic about how hard women are struggling just to make ends meet. Every day I see firsthand the distance between the legal right to abortion, which exists in every state, and real, meaningful access— a distance which is hard, if not impossible, to bridge when paychecks are too small and household bills are due.

The Hyde Amendment creates yet another needless and abusive barrier to comprehensive health care for many, and most heavily impacts people who are already struggling to make ends meet. I am compelled by my faith to articulate a vision of Christian values that counters the tendency of conservative politicians to use Christian rhetoric to exclude poor people from access to comprehensive health care. This exclusion, this denial that threatens the health of those who are already struggling, is not aligned with my concept of Christian values.

Politicians aren’t the only ones espousing support for a legal right to abortion while denying poor women the means to access one. Even in progressive Christian spaces, I have heard similar statements from colleagues, family, and friends. I talk to people daily who have accepted that regardless of their personal beliefs, it is not their place to impose moral sanctions on others. These same people, however, seem to believe it is acceptable to deny low-income women the ability to make the decision to get an abortion because they lack the resources to pay for it out of pocket.

This is where the distance between a legal right to abortion and actual, meaningful access becomes so important. By withholding coverage for abortion from poor women, the Hyde Amendment effectively creates a second class consisting disproportionately of women of color, young people, and immigrants, whose access to abortion is blocked simply because they don’t have enough money.

Many lean on neoliberal ideologies and pseudo Christian “prosperity” gospels—which connect prosperity to sacrificial giving and shames poor people for not having enough faith to give—to justify exclusionary politics that encourage the idea that poverty is the fault of the poor. It is not difficult, then, to see how some have arrived at the conclusion that it is not only acceptable, but perhaps even right, to refuse health care to low-income women on the basis of their socioeconomic status alone. If poverty is the fault of the poor, then it’s a short road to the mistaken belief that governments should stop investing in their well-being, and instead, hold them solely and harshly accountable for the socioeconomic factors that create poverty in the first place.

One does not promote growth by choking opportunity. How can we rebuke a poor woman for needing an abortion when our school systems do not offer comprehensive sex education? Or when she does not have access to a full range of contraceptive options? Why do we stand in the way of a poor family’s ability to make the decision they feel is best for their circumstances, and then continue to blame l them for falling further into poverty? And in the case of those of us who identify as Christian, whether Catholic or protestant, how can we call ourselves followers of Jesus while doing the exact opposite of what Jesus did for poor people when he walked the earth?

The idea that we who follow Jesus should make it our aim to deny low-income women full-spectrum health care and say that our faith is what drives support for such measures rings hollow in my spiritual ears. Through my personal faith journey and attention to the life and ministry of Jesus, I‘ve come to believe that loving God and loving our neighbor AS OURSELVES is more important than all other commandments. We cannot possibly look to our faith as justification for supporting policies that intentionally exclude those most in need from that which we say all deserve.

Jesus taught us love and compassion, including and especially for the poor, and this is entirely at odds with the Hyde Amendment’s 40-year legacy of compulsory child birth, plunging families deeper into poverty, and utter lack of regard for entire communities. For those who support Roe v. Wade, but also support Hyde’s politics of punishment for poverty, perhaps a closer look at the example of Jesus could clarify what seems to me a confusion of Christian values. I am hopeful that those who believe themselves to be allies of women’s rights, health, and decision-making will be inspired by the generous and compassionate example of Jesus, and will see the ugly truth about the Hyde Amendment. In the meantime, they (and all those who are today being harmed by bans on abortion coverage) will be in my prayers.

Faye London earned her Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree from Vanderbilt Divinity School in 2011 and was ordained for Christian Ministry by the Tennessee Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on September 23, 2012. Rev. Faye defines herself as an advocate for Black women and seeks to foster an understanding of our bodies as fully participating in God’s sacred, beloved and good creation and of women’s God-granted competence and wisdom to exercise full authority over them. She continues to do this work daily in her current capacity as the Interfaith & Outreach Coordinator for SisterReach where she organizes clergy and people of faith around issues affecting women at the intersection of race class, gender, sexuality, ability and faith.

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