Politics Reproductive Rights

House Hearing Reveals Contention Leading Up to Hyde Week of Action

This morning the House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice held a hearing on the Hyde Amendment and the Born Alive Infant Protection Act. The Republican-chaired subcommittee stacked the witness panel with a number of prominent anti-abortion advocates, allowing one abortion access advocate, Kierra Johnson, executive director of URGE, to testify before the committee.

The Hyde Amendment has denied Medicaid funded insurance coverage of abortion services since 1976, forcing low-income women to pay out of pocket for one of the safest medical procedures performed in this country. For a woman who is struggling to make ends meet, paying an average out of pocket cost of $365 for an unexpected abortion can be catastrophic to her and her family.

“The Hyde Amendment is a political tool to push abortion out of reach,” said Kierra Johnson to the subcommittee. “Those who oppose abortion have tried and failed to make it illegal, so instead they have worked to make it impossible to obtain.”

In contrast, the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act of 2002 treats a fetus that is breathing when it leaves the womb, even if during an abortion procedure, as a person under the law. It is seen by pro-choice advocates as nothing but a shell bill, described by the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy as “deceptive, extreme and unconstitutional.” The alleged statistic cited by anti-abortion advocates says this has happened less than 150 times in over a decade, and it is unclear how many of these are from illegal botched abortions.

What is known is that 1 in 6 women of reproductive age are enrolled in Medicaid, and that 60 percent of those women live in states that withhold insurance coverage for abortion except in limited circumstances, as was pointed out in Kierra Johnson’s testimony. However, the majority of the hearing’s grandstanding ignored the harmful consequences of the Hyde Amendment all together, instead choosing to demonize abortion, the women who choose it, and the doctors who perform it.

When the Hyde Amendment was discussed, Republican members of the subcommittee were clear: the goal of the Hyde Amendment is to restrict poor women from accessing their constitutional right to abortion. Representative Ron Desantis (R-FL) compared the out of pocket cost women pay for abortions as equivalent to a tax on cigarettes: it is meant as a deterrent.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) introduced a controversial racial element into the conversation, asking the white female members of the witness panel whether or not they thought abortion constituted as “black genocide” and a scheme of “eugenics.” He then related the decision in Roe v. Wade to the horrific 1857 Dred Scott decision, which affirmed the right of slave owners to take human beings they considered their property into states where slavery was illegal.

But Kierra Johnson held steadfast in her commitment to reproductive justice, defending the women who are given no choice because of the Hyde Amendment. She pushed Congress to pass the EACH Woman Act, which would restore abortion coverage to all women enrolled in government health insurance plans and prohibit politicians from restricting private health insurance companies from offering abortion. It has been introduced with the support of more than 150 members.

Next week is the Hyde Week of Action in remembrance of the 40th anniversary of Hyde’s passing. The Feminist Majority Foundation is participating in the All Above All movement to raise awareness about the impact of Hyde and advocate for the passing of the EACH Woman Act. Learn more and support the cause.

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