Last week was the 47th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment. This religiously rooted legislation has denied abortion access to millions of Americans for decades. It is high time that the draconian amendment comes to a close.
Just a few years after the historic passage of Roe v. Wade, staunch Catholic and Illinois Rep. Henry J. Hyde was eager to find a way to restrict abortion to as many people as possible. He found a solution in what became known as the Hyde Amendment. In 1976, the Illinois congressman introduced an amendment to discriminate against low-income individuals otherwise eligible for public health coverage by banning Medicaid from covering abortion care.
Hyde made no attempts to hide his intentions, explaining the impetus for the amendment: “I would certainly 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.” And Hyde did just that.
Congress passed the first Hyde Amendment in 1977, and it has received bipartisan support for nearly five decades. Essentially, the Hyde Amendment blocks federal funds from paying for abortion except in rare instances. This means that women on Medicaid, in the Peace Corps, on the Indian Health Services Plan, or serving in the military do not have access to affordable abortion unless their state covers the difference.
Millions of women have been denied affordable abortion care due to the Hyde Amendment. After all, a 2021 analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation determined that only 16 states used their own funds to pay for abortion under Medicaid. And without Roe, at least 21 states have banned or heavily restricted abortion. This means that people seeking an abortion are compelled to travel lengthy distances for care, incurring even more costs.
Abortion restrictions disproportionately impact people who are considered poor or low-income. A 2014 research study found that among the 75 percent of abortion patients who are poor or low-income, 49 percent live at less than the federal poverty level. Nobody should be denied health care or have limited options because they cannot afford it.
Not only is the Hyde Amendment discriminatory against low-income people, but it is also racist. The amendment denies Indigenous women on the Indian Health Services Plan from accessing affordable abortions. And approximately 29 percent of Black women and 25 percent of Hispanic women are enrolled on Medicaid, compared to 15 percent of white women. Furthermore, half of all women aged 15–49 with incomes below the federal poverty level were insured through Medicaid in 2019, and 62 percent of people in that group were Black women.
Hyde’s convictions in denying women abortion were outlined in his visions of the afterlife: “When the time comes as it surely will, when we face that awesome moment, the final judgment … you are there alone standing before God and a terror will rip through your soul like nothing you can imagine. But I really think that those in the pro-life movement will not be alone … God will look at you and say not, ‘Did you succeed?’ but ‘Did you try?’” For these words and actions, Hyde was often described as “U.S. Roman Catholicism’s most distinguished laymen.”
The Hyde Amendment has no place in health care legislation in a secular country. Abortion laws should reflect science and medicine — not a politician’s unfounded fears of the final judgment. Millions of women have not been able to access abortion for decades for religious reasons.
We must repeal the Hyde Amendment now and restore affordable abortion for all.