I was not surprised to see Hyde-like restrictions on funding for abortions added to the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act being debated in the U.S. Senate.
Frustrated? Of course. But not surprised.
This restriction, which keeps government money authorized through the trafficking victims legislation from funding abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger, is part of a pattern of policymakers interfering with personal decision-making. Anti-abortion politicians can’t make abortion illegal, so instead they are making it unavailable and unaffordable. Just this year, more than 25 bills have been proposed in Congress that would create even more barriers to abortion, and a record-breaking number of restrictions have been introduced and passed into law in the past few years.
Adding restrictions on abortion coverage and funding are part of a concerted effort to expand the reach of the Hyde amendment, which denies low-income women coverage for abortion care. As the director of education and community engagement at Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center in Bangor, one of only three publicly available abortion providers in Maine, I see how these restrictions impact women in our community.
For some, it means delaying their care. Others have to sell something of value or choose between their procedure and paying rent. And some women continue unwanted pregnancies. Studies show that when policymakers place severe restrictions on Medicaid coverage of abortion, it forces one in four poor women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. When politicians expand Hyde, they are banning abortion for more low-income women, who disproportionately are women of color, immigrants and young people.
While the Hyde amendment does not ban coverage for abortion in cases of rape, many states require police reports for Medicaid to actually cover the procedure. For trafficking survivors — or anyone — it’s easy to understand how reporting a rape might be an insurmountable barrier. Additionally, the language in the Justice of Victims of Trafficking Act would add trafficking survivors to the long list of groups specifically targeted with Hyde-like restrictions and denied abortion coverage, including federal employees, Medicaid recipients, members of the military, Peace Corps volunteers, women in detention centers and federal prisons, those covered through Indian Health Services and residents of the District of Columbia. In other words, it would deny a woman’s health coverage just because she is a survivor of trafficking. The language also represents an incremental strategy to codify this restriction into law. Currently, Congress denies federal funds from covering abortion on a yearly basis through the Hyde Amendment but hasn’t enacted it into permanent law.
The attacks on health care and personal decision-making must stop. The decision on when and whether to become a parent is one of the most intimate decisions a person makes. I understand there is a wide range of opinions on abortion, but regardless of how we feel, politicians shouldn’t be allowed to deny funds to cover a woman’s abortion care just because she is poor. Abortion is a common, necessary and normal part of reproductive lives. It is time to start treating it like any other legal medical procedure.
Anti-abortion politicians’ strategy is to put amendments on every bill, and they are willing to hold up a human trafficking bill, budget bills and even the attorney general’s nomination over it.
What’s next? This pattern of restrictions placed on abortion access cannot continue. We need Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King. The health and rights of women is not something we can allow to be compromised.
Abbie Strout is director of education and community engagement at Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center in Bangor.