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The Hyde Amendment: Denying Women's Civil Rights

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Written by Jessica Arons and Shira Saperstein for RHRealityCheck.org - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we are reminded of his poignant words that a "right delayed is a right denied." This is as true for reproductive rights as it is for other civil and human rights. And nowhere is it more true than with regard to a policy known as the Hyde Amendment, which delays and sometimes entirely denies poor women, especially women of color, access to abortion.

Abortion policy in this country does not treat all women equally. Even before Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, affluent women were usually able to access abortion safely through a network of private doctors or by traveling to other states or countries where it was legal. Meanwhile, poor women risked their health, fertility, and often their lives to end a pregnancy. Unfortunately, because of the Hyde Amendment, similar inequalities exist today -- nearly 40 years after the Supreme Court declared that all women have a constitutional right to abortion.

The Hyde Amendment prohibits Medicaid, the joint federal-state health care program for the indigent, from covering abortion care in almost all circumstances. Most people think of this as a "woman's issue," which of course it is. But the Hyde Amendment intentionally discriminates against poor women and has a disparate impact on women of color. In this way, the Hyde Amendment is a civil rights issue as well.

The Hyde Amendment is especially harmful to women of color. According to the most recent Census data, 25.8 percent of African Americans and 25.3 percent of Hispanics are poor, compared to 12.3 percent of whites and 12.5 percent of Asians. As a result, women of color are more likely to rely on government health programs. And due to socioeconomic factors, women of color disproportionately experience a range of reproductive and other health disparities, including higher rates of infant mortality, HIV/AIDS, STIs, unintended pregnancy, and abortion.

The upshot: women of color are more likely to be directly affected by the Hyde Amendment and other abortion funding restrictions. Read more