In 1977, Rosie Jimenez died after having an illegal abortion. But it wasn’t just the procedure that killed her—it was the Hyde Amendment.
A year prior, Rep. Henry Hyde, a Republican from Illinois, introduced the piece of legislation that still bears his name. The Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal money to pay for abortion, is a legislative provision that has been in place for decades—one that President Joe Biden promised during his campaign to finally overturn.
When Jimenez found out she was pregnant in 1977, she knew she didn’t want to be a parent. She wanted to finish college, and so she sought an abortion. Just a few months earlier, she would have been able to use Medicaid to pay for her abortion, but thanks to the Hyde Amendment, this wasn’t an option anymore.
Unable to afford the procedure out of pocket, she turned to an illegal abortion. Soon she was hemorrhaging and vomiting; she had a fever and her friends and family rushed her to the emergency room. There, she was given a tracheotomy, and soon after, a hysterectomy. But the infection in her uterus had become too widespread. After a painful seven days in intensive care, she died at the age of 27.
According to the Texas Observer, in just the short two months after the Hyde Amendment went into effect, complications from unsafe abortions were already on the rise in Jimenez’s Texas hometown.
“Between August and October of 1977, five women, including Jimenez, turned up at the emergency room with infections and related complications, probably from cheap illegal abortions, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the Observer reported.
It has been over 40 years since the Hyde Amendment was first enacted, and the concept of federal funding for abortion remains contentious, despite overwhelming evidence that the ban endangers the lives of the most marginalized and vulnerable pregnant people, particularly those in rural areas and in communities of color.
In 2016, at the urging of abortion advocates, Hillary Clinton became the first presidential candidate to include repealing the Hyde Amendment in her campaign platform, making it the most progessive abortion platform in history. And while the final iteration of Biden’s campaign platform included a repeal, that move only came after pressure from abortion advocates in response to Biden’s initial support for the Hyde Amendment.
Some states, like Massachusetts, get around Hyde by using state money to cover abortion care for residents on Medicaid. Other states, like Texas, have additional bans that prohibit even private insurers from covering abortion care.
Abortion-related funding has already made headlines since Biden was inaugurated. This week he announced he would be rescinding the Mexico City policy, otherwise known as the global “gag rule.” The global gag rule prohibits government money from going to nongovernmental organizations that promote—or even talk about—abortion as a method of family planning. The global gag rule works in concert with a legislative provision that also restricts abortion access overseas: the Helms Amendment. Think of Helms as the international counterpart to Hyde; it bars U.S. foreign aid money from paying for any kind of abortion care in other countries. And, to be clear, Biden should throw this one into the incinerator too.
Biden’s decision to rescind the Mexico City policy came after criticism—mine, to be exact—that the Biden administration seems just a tad uncomfortable with actually saying the word abortion. First there was White House press secretary Jen Psaki dancing around it at a briefing; then there were President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ statements commemorating the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, with the word “abortion” nowhere to be found. Even on Thursday as Biden signed the executive order, he evaded the term, opting instead for vaguer language like “reproductive rights” and “women’s health.”
But good news is good news, and the repeal of the global gag rule is pretty damn good news. What’s more, at least two states—Virginia and New Jersey—are looking to expand coverage for abortion care. If passed, the Reproductive Freedom Act in New Jersey would require private insurers to cover birth control and abortion care with no out-of-pocket costs. And on January 26, the Virginia House of Representatives voted to repeal a ban on abortion coverage for insurance plans in the state’s health-care exchange.
Repealing the Hyde Amendment is the least we can expect of liberal lawmakers. It’s a draconian and harmful law that puts the lives of pregnant people at risk. And it’s a grim reminder of how stigmatized and backwards United States abortion policy is. Insurance should cover abortion just like it covers any other procedure. That this is up for debate shows how far we still have to go to win this fight. Put simply, federal funding for abortion should be the floor—not the ceiling.
Repealing the Hyde Amendment is long overdue in the fight to ensure that comprehensive abortion access is a reality for all. It would be a recognition that abortion—like any other procedure, from an appendectomy to knee surgery—is just good medicine.