The Hyde Amendment—which bans using federal insurance for abortions—has again taken center stage in the battle for reproductive freedom.
The Hyde Amendment—which bans using federal insurance for abortions—has again taken center stage in the battle for reproductive freedom. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

As the US House discussed the future of the Hyde Amendment—which restricts federal abortion funding—leaders in reproductive justice testified to its racist past and enduring impact.

Access to abortion is a right—a fact decided by landmark US Supreme court case Roe v. Wade in 1973. However, the Hyde Amendment, which was passed three years later, intentionally restricted the rights of low-income women and women of color to abortion care, and continues to do so.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives held a historic meeting to discuss ending it and its racist impact.

“Health care is a human right and every person has the right to have access to the same services,” said Dr. Jamila Perritt, president and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health, at the hearing. “They should not have to make decisions based on economics and income.”

The Hyde Amendment, first passed in 1976 and renewed every year since, prohibits the use of federal insurance funds for abortions. Currently, nearly 40 million women in the US rely on Medicaid—a federal insurance program—for healthcare coverage. Black, Latina, and low-income women make up the majority of those enrolled, and they are disproportionately harmed by the restrictions of the Hyde Amendment. 

Such restrictions send a “stigmatizing message” to low-income women, said Amanda Beatriz Williams, executive director of the Lilith Fund, who also testified at the House hearing. “That they are not worth safe and affordable health care and we do not care about their rights,” she continued.

Given the amendment’s disproportionate affects on Black, Latina, and low-income women, withholding the right to safe abortion care due to inability to pay is racist and classist. As such, the Hyde Amendment is in line with the history of reproductive care in the US, which has historically denied women of color agency over their own bodies. 

“There is a direct line from the forced sterilization of Black women to policies like the Hyde Amendment,” Dr. Herminia Palacio, president and CEO of Guttmacher Institute, said before representatives from the House. “Black bodies have been experimented on and forced sterilization was the rule of the day.”

Dr. Palacio was referring to J. Marion Sims, the father of gynecology who experimented on enslaved Black women without anesthesia and without consent. In the wake of Roe, Henry Hyde made it clear that the intent of the Hyde Amendment was to target “poor women.” With that in mind, an end to the Hyde Amendment would mean the start of an end to disregarding and restricting the reproductive rights of the most vulnerable women in the United States.

“Yes, we have a racist history, and, yes, Hyde is a racist policy,” said Palacio. “We cannot remedy a racist history if we continue racist policies into the future.”