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A Call to Repeal the Hyde Restrictions on Funding for Abortions

September 24, 2009 - 0 Comments

With the election of President Obama and a less conservative legislature, it is time to intensify our work for reproductive justice.  We at Women’s Health Specialists would like you to join us in an effort to repeal the Hyde restrictions.  It is time to restore federal funds, reproductive justice and choice, and safety for all women.

After the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the United States, Henry Hyde, a conservative politician from Illinois, introduced restrictions on federal funds for abortion, in 1976.  This was the first federal policy that severely limited a woman’s right to an abortion, and earmarked the first successful attempt by right-wing conservatives to erode the rights women won in the Roe v. Wade decision.

The Hyde Amendment, which today still affects women’s lives after 33 years, essentially stated that Medicaid funds–monies that states receive from the federal government for the federal portion of the contribution to state’s Medicaid funding– would not cover and pay for abortions.  Across the nation, Medicaid funds are the last hope for uninsured and indigent people to obtain health care coverage.

Under the Hyde Amendment, funding for abortion is reviewed annually by Congress, under appropriation bills.  The current restrictive version of the Hyde “Amendment” does not provide coverage for abortion, except in cases of fetal abnormalities, or certain life-threatening circumstances.1 

Some states, including California and 16 others, continued to pay for Medicaid abortions using state funds; however, most states stopped providing coverage under Medicaid altogether.  Some states have even adopted more restrictive laws than allowed under the Hyde limits regarding when state funds can be used for abortion procedures.

Women in the military, federal employees, Native American women, women in federal prisons, and even Peace Corps volunteers are denied the use of federal funds for abortions.

One of the effects of the Hyde amendment are that state funding for abortion services have become a political battleground;  right-wing politicians trying to ensure that there would be no funds utilized in their states for abortion, and more progressive politicians trying to secure state money for low income women.  Not only did the passage of the Hyde Amendment mean that each state has become a battleground for women’s rights to obtain an abortion, it fueled the anti-abortion movement with a crucial win that gave rise to more anti-abortion attacks.  Legislative bodies and courts are battlegrounds for a woman’s right to choose, over a plethora of issues such as abortion consent, parental notification, etc.  The anti-abortion movement was emboldened to such an extent that protests at clinics and violence against abortion providers were commonplace.  During the 1980’s through the present, clinics have been blockaded, picketed, firebombed, and provider physicians, patients, and staffs were threatened, harassed, shot, and murdered.

The impact of the Hyde limits in states without funding for abortion is dramatic.  Women are forced to travel out of state for abortions, and often have to wait to obtain an abortion, forcing women to seek a second trimester, more costly abortions.  Some women have died or have complications from illegal abortions.  Rosie Jiminez was one woman that was known to have died from an illegal abortion because she could not obtain a state funded abortion in Texas.  Women have been forced into mandatory motherhood.  Women who know they cannot afford another baby and also cannot afford to pay for an abortion predictably begin to see sterilization as a viable option.

In a better world where women have access to safe birth control and abortion, women would not choose sterilization.  Over a quarter of women who have had tubal ligations regret doing so, not to mention suffering undiagnosed health side effects after having this operation.  Women who have had tubal ligation sterilization procedures have an increased risk of tubal pregnancies (7.3 per 1000 sterilization procedures), which is a life-threatening situation.2  This tragic scenario would cease to exist if federal funding for abortions were restored.

The Hyde restrictions are a direct attack on women from poor, uninsured, working-class, rural and marginalized communities.  The reality is that our reproductive freedom is based on our ability to pay. The lack of federal funds for abortion grossly stigmatizes and marginalizes women and denies women of their fundamental right to reproductive health care.  The inability of women to obtain abortions under Medicaid is not only discriminatory, but puts women’s health in harm’s way.

Carol Downer, a leader in women’s health movement since the early 1970’s states:

=”8pt”>  Both the anti-choice and pro-choice legislators agree that poor women, especially young poor women, should not have access to abortion because they are needed to produce the next generation of soldiers, and low-paid workers.  Where the legislators disagree is on the regulation of abortion for women beyond their teens, middle or upper class women.  The anti-choice legislators want these women to seek out illegal, dangerous and expensive abortions so that they will feel guilty and ashamed, but they also want them to get abortions, because they realize that the economy is such that it is necessary.  Pro-choice legislators (this does not apply to female pro-choice legislators) want women to be sexually available and also available to work to support the family.

=”8pt”>  Laws about abortion are important to those who run our society, because it is the single, most effective and potentially precise way to control population growth.  Preaching abstinence or the use of birth control are less powerful that regulating abortion because it takes energy and effort to control the circumstances which determine a woman’s fertility over the entire span of a woman’s reproductive life.  Abortion is a one-time quick and effective solution.  It doesn’t require expertise on the woman’s part or cooperation between the partners.  It doesn’t even require changing people’s attitudes that much.

This insight is important for the pro-woman abortion movement in terms of understanding the motivation of legislators, and developing a strategy for repealing the Hyde restrictions.  Unfortunately, President Obama signed his budget this year with the Hyde Restrictions intact. However, there are groups working toward overturning the restrictions on abortion funds now, in preparation of the next funding opportunity.  


What you can do:


The National Network of Abortion Funds has launched a petition drive to repeal the Hyde restrictions. Please voice your desire to restore equality for women in health care by signing the petition.


Read the Alan Guttmacher Institute’s report for more information on state policies regarding state funding for abortion.


1. National Abortion Federation, “Public Funding for Abortion: Medicaid and the Hyde Amendment” <> National Abortion Federation 2006 web. 28 April 2009.


2. Peterson, Herbert, M.D., et al.  “The Risk of Ectopic Pregnancy after Tubal Sterilization” <> 13 March 1997 New England Journal of Medicine web. 28 April 2009.


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