As women of color fighting for reproductive health and rights, we must speak truth to power because too often the policies of those in power do not reflect the priorities or lived truths of our communities. We see decisions that time and again ignore the daily struggle our communities must contend with as a result of policies that systematically hinder our ability to thrive—and that’s exactly what happened in Democrats’ Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) funding bill.
Although we welcome the inclusion of much-needed protections to Title X family planning funding and many other beneficial reforms in the LHHS funding bill that advanced on Wednesday, we cannot hide our disappointment that the Hyde Amendment, an annual appropriations rider that bans federal funding for abortion, remains in this bill.
For far too long, women of color have been disproportionately affected by laws that were designed without our participation and that clearly did not take our lived realities and aspirations into account. Draconian legislation like the Hyde Amendment sends a clear message to poor women—who are predominantly women of color—that we have no right to control our own reproduction under Roe v Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. This policy reflects an outdated style of governing that reinforces systems that oppress and control women of color’s lives. It harkens back to a time when we had little say in political decisions.
But let’s be clear: Those days are over. We are participating, representing, and leading in politics more than ever and we are here to say that the status quo is no longer acceptable, and policies like the Hyde Amendment must come to an end.
Last November, women of color sent a clear message that enough is enough. We turned out in unprecedented numbers to vote in the midterm elections because we knew what was at stake—our ability to make free choices over our bodies restricted, our communities facing hate and violence, our families being separated, our waters being polluted. We wanted to see leadership that stopped taking us for granted. We wanted to see change that put a stop to these attacks and that reflected our priorities so that we could live with dignity, health, and autonomy over our lives, our families, and our communities.
How can it be that we still do not have enough political will from members of Congress we helped elect to say that women with fewer means are no less deserving of our constitutional right to have autonomy over our bodies and our health than wealthy white women? It is 2019. How much longer do women of color have to wait for basic equity?
A recent poll for Intersections of Our Lives found that 88 percent of women of color voters polled said they turned out to vote in the 2018 election because they felt the stakes were too high to stay at home. They voted overwhelmingly for candidates that represent our values and priorities, securing a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives because they wanted to see a change in the direction our country was headed. And 84 percent of these women of color wanted candidates to respect their autonomy over their reproductive health. Notably, 62 percent of women of color voters said they would watch their elected officials in Congress more closely to see if they execute bold leadership that reflects their priorities.
It is high time that Congress truly hear what women of color want and why we sent them to Washington. Now is the time for new lawmakers to seize opportunities like the LHHS funding bill to take bold action by ending policies like Hyde that are harmful and deeply personal to the ability of women of color to make decisions about our own bodies.
Women of color are staying vigilant because we simply do not have the privilege to be complacent with the status quo. We will remember which politicians showed moral leadership and stood up for our issues, and which ones did not.