Hyde Amendment Restrictions Impose Harsh Costs on Low-Income Latinas

Last week President
Barack Obama released his budget for fiscal year 2010. The
document allocates hundreds of billions of dollars to initiatives
designed to help struggling families navigate the treacherous waters of
recession. The president wisely called for funding cuts to programs
consistently proven ineffective, including abstinence-only sexuality
education. Regrettably, he forgot to remove an archaic provision that,
today more than ever, thwarts the economic survival and
undermines healthy living for low-income women across America, the so-called Hyde
Amendment.  Latinas, more likely to be poor and uninsured, top the list
of those affected by the restrictions posed by this law.

The Hyde Amendment, one of the first and most enduring efforts from
right-wing extremists to deny reproductive freedom to women, has for more than 30 years prohibited the use of federal funds to subsidize
access to abortion for low-income women who receive Medicaid.  The only exceptions to these prohibitions are the cases of rape, incest
or if the woman’s life is in danger.

Medicaid recipients of reproductive age, nearly one-fourth (two million) are Hispanic.  According to figures from the Guttmacher Institute, 60 percent of women who had
abortions in 2000 had incomes of less than twice the poverty level
–below $28,000 per year for a family of three. Yet, economic concern
is only one reason why women across the spectrum choose to have
abortions. While most (75%) cite economic pressure, the same percentage
say that having a baby would interfere with work or school; half do not
want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or
partner. Regardless of their reasons, women deserve full access to
information and services that can help them make, without coercion,
decisions that are most appropriate to their unique individual
realities. The Hyde prohibition and other discriminatory policies deny
women this essential right.

Because Latinas tend to be poorer than non-Latinas – therefore less
likely to have access to contraceptive methods and counseling – they
experience a disproportionate share of the unintended pregnancies in the U.S. 
According to 2007 reports by Pew Hispanic Center, Latinas are twice as
likely as non-Latinas to live in poverty. One in five Hispanic women
live in poverty, compared with one in ten non-Hispanic women.
Immigrant Hispanic women are slightly more likely than native-born
Hispanic women to live in poverty, 22% versus 18%.  Likewise, Latinas
who work full time earn less than non-Latinas, and the gap grows even
wider for recent immigrants.

The cost of an abortion can be more than a full month of earnings for a poor family, especially in the midst of the employment crisis. Without
public funding, the choices of impoverished Latinas facing unwanted
pregnancies are dreadful. They are forced to find a way, however risky,
to secure money for an abortion. In the mildest of cases, a woman might
sacrifice money that would otherwise be used to pay for rent, utility
bills and groceries.  For those struggling to collect the money, each
passing day represents a greater risk of health complications from
later term abortions. When essential funds are not available, some
low-income Latinas are effectively denied reproductive freedom and must
carry to term unplanned pregnancies. In their desperation, they might
even decide to run the risk of an unsafe, self-induced abortion.

In 2005, there were 1.21 million abortions in the United States and
today, about 22% of all women having abortions are Latinas. Latinas in
the United States have a much higher rate of unintended pregnancy
compared to white women, and therefore a higher rate of abortion.  The
complex landscape of why so many women face unintended pregnancy and
what choices are available to them points to the urgent need to treat
reproductive health care as a public health priority, not a political
debate. For the most disadvantaged, abortion is as inaccessible as if
it were still illegal. 

The White House’s proposed budget condones a two-tier health system, in
which women with private health insurance or private funds can exercise
their right to an abortion, but poor women cannot.  Women choose
abortion for a myriad of reasons, economic and otherwise. We urge
President Obama and Congress to rethink the 2010 budget and give way to
sensible health policies that guarantee health, freedom and dignity for
all women, including poor Latinas.

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  • http://sacrilicio.us invalid-0

    I sympathize with your position, and I agree with you that the Hyde amendment should be removed. However, the headline “Obama’s Budget Leaves Poor Latinas in Peril” is twice misleading.

    According to your article, “among Medicaid recipients of reproductive age, nearly one-fourth (two million) are Hispanic.” Okay that’s 25%. That leaves 75% of non-Hispanics (and I’ll assume your numbers are just women). It seems to me that in your rush to make a sensationalist headline, you went a little too far to make it sound like there is some actual discriminatory policy in the budget against Hispanics, an allegation you failed to demonstrate and which detracts from your point.

    The second misleading part of the headline is that it is leaving people in peril. As I said, I agree with your position on the Hyde amendment, but let’s look at your own cited statistics:

    …economic concern is only one reason why women across the spectrum choose to have abortions. While most (75%) cite economic pressure, the same percentage say that having a baby would interfere with work or school; half do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner.

    Now, I’m sure there are some isolated cases where not having access to federal funding for an abortion leaves a woman “in peril”, but as your numbers indicate, this by no means represents a significant portion of women would want an abortion. Only in the loosest definition of the word “peril” (“economic peril”? “scholastic peril”? “marital peril?”) does your statement make any sense.

    In fact, it is counterproductive. By alleging that women are in peril for lack of funding for an abortion, you are inviting foes of abortion to point out that most women are not actually in peril. You allow the debate to turn on whether people think women are in peril or not, rather than whether women have the right to an abortion- and whether it is in the interests of the state to help fund them- regardless of if they are in mortal danger.

  • jodi-jacobson

    Dear Matunos,

    Thank you for the note. We agree with your point on the headline and have changed it. Headlines often are representative of the author’s original submission. We do however change these when needed, and in this case did not. But I think your point is quite valid as regards the title and we have changed it to be more reflective of the post itself.

    I do however take issue with the other points. One is that the proportion of medicaid recipients who are Hispanic does not undermine the point in the piece as many people who should be accessing medicaid or some form of public assistance for health care are not able to do so for many reasons. There are millions who are completely un-insured/not covered by any health care. The second is that yes, lack of access to early, safe abortion services in cases where women do not want to carry a pregnancy to term does place women in peril….of later term abortions, of having a pregnancy they did not want or plan, of giving birth to children for which they do not have adequate resources to care.

    The basic issue is that women have a right to decide whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term. Abrogating this right puts them in peril in many ways, including economic peril, pressure to stay in abusive marriages or partnerships and a range of other outcomes.

    I really appreciate your thoughtful comment and critique.

    Jodi Jacobson

  • emily-douglas

    Matunos, thanks for your comment. I do disagree, though I like the headline Jodi changed it to, so all’s well that end’s well! My thoughts were, Jessica and Liza are talking about a segment of the population, Latinas, not arguing that Latinas are proportionally the most affected or more imperiled that other demographic groups. As to whether Hyde is a de jure discriminatory policy, it’s not, but de facto, it is. As for the “in peril” part, lack of access to abortion leaves women in peril, that is as valid an argument as an abstract appeal to “rights.”