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A Very Unhappy Anniversary for Low-Income Women

Sarah Lipton-Lubet,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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September 30, 2013

Some anniversaries just don’t deserve a celebration, and today is one of them. Thirty-seven years ago today, Congress shut off Medicaid coverage for abortion care, unfairly targeting low-income women.

The Hyde Amendment, which was enacted in 1976, excludes abortion from Medicaid, our country’s health care plan which provides access to healthcare for qualified low-income people. At the time, Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) was clear about his intent: “I would certainly like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion: a rich woman, a middle class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the [Medicaid] bill.” And it’s worked. This discriminatory policy means that women who qualify for Medicaid still can’t get the health care they need.

So what happens to women who just don’t have the money to afford an abortion? The numbers are scary: a recent study by the Guttmacher Institute found that one in four women enrolled in Medicaid who want to terminate a pregnancy are unable to do so. Withholding resources from a woman who is working hard to make ends meet effectively takes away her ability to make a real decision about her pregnancy.

Whatever feelings any of us have about abortion, most of us also believe it’s not our place to decide for someone else whether she should end her pregnancy. A woman who qualifies for Medicaid should be able to use her health coverage for the medical care she needs, including abortion. Our representatives should be making sure this nation’s health care funds get to where they are needed.

It is time to stop playing “keep away” with women’s health care by restoring Medicaid coverage for abortion. Thirty-seven anniversaries are enough.

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