It’s High Time We End Hyde If We Are Serious About Racial Justice

By Jessica González-Rojas, Marcela Howell, Sung Yeon Choimorrow
The Hyde Amendment blocks women from using federal funds such as Medicaid to end unwanted pregnancies. On this 43rd anniversary of a rule that places undue burden on women of color, we say enough is enough.

Say her name: Rosie Jimenez. She was a 27-year-old Chicana, the daughter of migrant farm workers, living in McAllen, Texas, in 1977. She had a 5-year-old daughter she loved dearly. She was a student just six months shy of graduating and pursuing her dream of becoming a special education teacher. Yet, those dreams were never realized because Rosie died from an unsafe abortion she was forced to pursue because of the Hyde Amendment.

More than 40 years later, we still lack justice for Rosie’s untimely and unnecessary death. We must still contend with the stark injustice of the Hyde Amendment and similar restrictions, which deny coverage for safe abortion to people with Medicaid insurance, federal employees, military personnel, Native Americans, Alaskan Natives and federal prisoners. And political leaders still shy away from condemning the Hyde Amendment for what it is—a blatantly racist policy that essentially says women of color and women with low incomes are not worthy of making their own decisions over their bodies.

The Hyde Amendment—designed explicitly by Congressman Henry Hyde to strip women with low incomes of their right to abortion—is in many ways the original abortion ban. One in five women of reproductive age in the United States rely on Medicaid and under this ban are unable to get coverage for abortion care. Due to structural inequities, women of color are disproportionately impacted, since 31 percent of Black women of reproductive age, 27 percent of Latina women of reproductive age, and 19 percent of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women are enrolled in Medicaid. Long before the wave of abortion bans that have swept across the country in the past decade, many women of color did not have equitable access to abortion care simply because they were enrolled in Medicaid. While many benefited from Roe v. Wade, many women of color were left behind.

Of course, today, the impacts of Hyde are compounded by so many other structural injustices communities of color face. ICE raids, the expansion of the public charge regulation, and other anti-immigrant attacks are decimating our communities and their ability to seek comprehensive reproductive care. State-level legislative restrictions across the South and Midwest are constraining access to abortion for people of color who do not have the resources to go elsewhere for care. The same Black women who are denied abortions are three to four times more likely than White women to die in childbirth.

What is perhaps most surprising about the persistence of Hyde is that it is not permanent law. It is a rider, or supplemental language, that is added to every annual appropriations bill that Congress must pass in order to fund federal programs. In other words, year after year for over 40 years, lawmakers have had the chance to decide on the justness of Hyde and to take a stand against it. They have had an opportunity to remember Rosie and do right by her. The question is: How long must people of color wait before members of Congress end this discrimination?

Well we are not waiting. As the leaders of three national women of color-led reproductive justice organizations, we mobilized nearly 300 activists to come to Washington last week to tell legislators directly that they must stand up against Hyde and support the EACH Woman Act, which would lift this harmful and racist amendment. We spoke to them about why this is a critical racial justice issue. We hope many others will join us to demand justice and dignity for our communities, to speak truth to power and to urge our legislators take a bold stand against Hyde. We do this to honor Rosie, so that she and all other Rosie’s can rest in power.

Jessica González-Rojas is the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

Marcela Howell is the founder and president/CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda.

Sung Yeon Choimorrow is the executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.