Pro-Choice Advocates Go on Offense With Congressional Call to End Hyde Amendment

Heeding calls from pro-choice advocates to end the discriminatory Hyde Amendment, House Democrats introduced comprehensive legislation to ensure every woman has equal access to insurance coverage of abortion.

"It's past time to repeal Hyde," said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) at a press conference with pro-choice advocates and cosponsors of the EACH Woman Act. Emily Crockett / RH Reality Check

Members of Congress for the first time are pushing comprehensive legislation to overturn the Hyde Amendment and ensure that every woman has access to insurance coverage of abortion care, regardless of which state she lives in, what type of insurance she has, or whether she can afford the procedure.

On Wednesday morning, three Democratic congresswomen, Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Diana DeGette (D-CO), introduced the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act, or the EACH Woman Act.

The new bill, which has 70 co-sponsors in the House, would ensure that anyone who has health care or health insurance through the federal government also has coverage of abortion care.

The bill would keep states from restricting insurance coverage of abortion and would repeal laws in 25 states that prohibit private insurers, both within and beyond the exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), from covering abortion.

The bill would also lift restrictions on abortion funding for low-income women in the District of Columbia.

Many state-level restrictions on abortion insurance coverage have passed in the past five years as part of an unprecedented wave of anti-choice legislation. The ACA allows states to restrict abortion coverage within their borders, and it requires any plans that cover abortion to collect those funds separately from other premiums. The EACH Woman Act would repeal these restrictions in the ACA.

Pro-choice advocates and Democratic co-sponsors of the EACH Woman Act said the bill would put a stop to the Hyde Amendment, which they said has discriminated for decades against the most vulnerable women who are least able to afford either an abortion or a new child.

“It’s past time for all women to be treated equally, regardless of her income, the color of her skin, or where she lives,” said Lee, the bill’s lead sponsor, at a press conference Wednesday.

“Latinas and other women of color are more likely to experience an unintended pregnancy and less likely to pay for an abortion out of pocket,” said Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. “Enough is enough.”

The federal government has withheld funds for most abortions since 1976, when the Hyde Amendment was first introduced. The amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion care except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment, has been added as a rider to must-pass spending bills every year since then.

Rep. Henry Hyde, the amendment’s author, said at the time that he would 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,” which restricts access only for low-income women and disproportionately for women of color.

One in four poor women on Medicaid seeking an abortion go through with an unwanted pregnancy because they could not afford the abortion, and women who are denied abortion care are three times more likely to fall into poverty than women who can access the procedure.

Research also shows that Hyde’s exceptions for rape often don’t work as intended.

The new pro-choice bill would affect millions of women who receive health coverage through the federal government, including the one in six women who are enrolled in Medicaid; about one million female federal employees; women in the military or in the Peace Corps; young women under age 19 who are insured through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); Native American women covered under Indian Health Services; and women covered under these programs through a spouse or a parent.

“It’s past time to be bold. It’s past time to repeal Hyde,” Lee said. “This decision to restrict a woman’s right is a choice Congress makes each and every year.”

While the spread of Hyde Amendment language into other bills on human trafficking or Medicare has caused recent controversy, most Democrats have come to see Hyde as an inevitable restriction that is too politically toxic to oppose.

All Above All, a coalition of advocacy organizations, has pushed back against this conventional wisdom and urged Democratic legislators to start actively working to end the Hyde Amendment.

Standing alongside coalition members at the Wednesday press conference, Schakowsky thanked advocates for helping pro-choice members of Congress “feel bold and supported and on the winning side of this issue,” after too many years of having “acquiesced” to demands from Republicans to attach anti-choice riders to must-pass spending bills.

“I can’t tell you how great it feels to be on offense on the issue of reproductive health care,” Schakowsky said.

Conservative legislators and advocates often argue that Americans oppose “taxpayer-funded abortions,” but new polling suggests the opposite.

A survey conducted by Hart Research Associates found that more than half (56 percent) of voters would support legislation like the EACH Woman Act that would require Medicaid to cover all pregnancy-related care, including abortion.

Three in four voters, including 62 percent of Republicans, agreed that “as long as abortion is legal, the amount of money a woman has or does not have should not prevent her from being able to have an abortion.”

Advocates for reproductive choice in communities of color praised the legislation Wednesday.

“The EACH Woman Act puts the power back in the hands of Black women, in varying financial and life situations, and gives options that best suit their families’ needs,” Michelle Batchelor, national director for In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, said in a statement.

“Many Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women already face cultural and linguistic barriers to accessing health care,” Miriam Yeung, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, said in a statement. “With over one million AAPI women living in poverty, a number that has grown over the past several years, Medicaid coverage for the full range of reproductive health services is more crucial than ever for our community.”

“I talk to Latinas every day who live with the injustice of coverage bans,” González-Rojas said. “We are ready to do what it takes to make Hyde history.”