Latinovations thanks Jessica Arons for her contribution to La Plaza, which is an exclusive adaptation of an article that was originally published in Spanish on the Center for American Progress website.
Abortion funding policies in this country are discriminatory and put abortion care out of reach for the women who need it the most: low-income women and women of color. As chronicled in my report, “Separate and Unequal: The Hyde Amendment and Women of Color,” published recently by the Center for American Progress, women of color are disproportionately impacted by a policy known as the Hyde Amendment.
The amendment prohibits Medicaid, the joint federal-state health program for the poor and indigent, from funding abortion care unless a woman’s life is in danger or a pregnancy results from rape or incest. The Hyde Amendment policy has since been expanded to other government-related health programs.
Because poverty and race in this country are intertwined, black and Hispanic women are overrepresented among women living in poverty. 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 Asian Americans. Among women of reproductive age (15 to 44 years old) living in poverty, 28.5 percent are African American, 27.2 percent are Hispanic, and 27.0 percent are Native American while 15.8 percent are white and 13.3 percent are Asian.
As a result, women of color are more likely to be enrolled in a government-run or managed health program. Indeed, while 12 percent of whites and 10 percent of Asians and Pacific Islanders rely on public programs for their health care, 28 percent of African Americans, 23 percent of Hispanics, 23 percent of Native Americans, and 26 percent of multiracial people have government insurance.
Also because of their socioeconomic status, women of color are at higher risk of adverse reproductive health outcomes, including maternal mortality, infant mortality, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancy, and abortion. For instance, while Hispanic women comprise 14 percent of women at risk for unintended pregnancy, they represent 22 percent of all unintended pregnancies. And because the intended pregnancy rate has dropped for Latinas while the unintended pregnancy rate has stayed constant, their unintended pregnancy rate is now 75 percent higher than the non-Hispanic rate. Unfortunately, a higher unintended pregnancy rate leads almost inevitably to a higher abortion rate.
This means that Latinas and other women of color are more likely to need abortion care, less likely to be able to afford it, and more likely to receive their health care through a government program that restricts abortion coverage.
To receive an abortion, women must factor in the cost of the procedure plus other costs like transportation, child care if they have children, and missed work. Without financial assistance, poor women in need of an abortion resort to diverting their meager resources away from essential things like rent, groceries, heat, and clothing in order to pay for the procedure.
And in the scramble to gather money, they must delay the procedure until it’s more costly and carries more health risks—or until it’s too late to obtain an abortion. Tragically, some consider suicide, self-harm, or self-induced abortion. Those who must go through with an unwanted pregnancy often face additional constraints in achieving their economic and educational goals.
While the Hyde Amendment is used to encourage childbearing, other policies and practices—such as the prosecution of poor women of color who use drugs while pregnant and the threat of revoking birthright citizenship—simultaneously attempt to discourage childbearing among marginalized women.
Taken together, these policies leave poor women of color with no choices at all.
The Hyde Amendment is a clear example that our laws have two standards regarding the rights of women based on whether they can pay for their rights or not. This unequal treatment violates fundamental principles of economic and racial justice and should no longer be tolerated.
Repealing this policy and related abortion funding bans will not by itself result in full equality and improved reproductive health outcomes for women of color. But doing so is a necessary precondition. Anyone who cares about fighting racism and poverty must realize that attacks on abortion, and especially on abortion funding, are first and foremost attacks on poor and low-income women of color.
Jessica Arons is the Director of the Women’s Health and Rights Program at American Progress and a member of the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative. Prior to joining American Progress, she worked at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, the labor and employment law firm of James & Hoffman, the Supreme Court of Virginia, the White House, and the 1996 Pennsylvania Democratic Coordinated Campaign. She currently serves on the boards of the D.C. Abortion Fund and the Virginia ACLU.