As a Black woman, I’ve spent much of this year watching my own people suffer. Black women are grieving the loss of their fathers, mothers, and children in mounting numbers because of COVID-19. Black women are facing catastrophic job losses due to the pandemic. And we continue to watch our fathers, sons, brothers and daughters die at the hands of racist police.
I’ve been fighting for reproductive justice my entire adult life, and I know that the deep inequities exposed in the last several months stretch far beyond the crises of this moment. Black women have experienced racism and oppression in our health care and economic policies for decades, and this year’s combination of the pandemic with nationwide anti-racist uprisings have made it abundantly clear: the old days of maintaining the status quo are over. Enough is enough.
One status quo policy that must go is the Hyde Amendment, which has been in place for 44 years as of this month and has always disproportionately impacted Black women. For 44 years, this policy has denied insurance coverage for abortion for people struggling financially, who are more likely to be women of color. For 44 years, women of color have been denied the agency to decide their own futures simply because of how much money they have and how they get their health insurance.
If we want justice in our communities, equity in our health care system, and liberation and autonomy for all, ending abortion coverage bans like Hyde is a crucial starting point.
Lack of abortion coverage means too many women of color, who are more likely to struggle financially and more likely to seek abortion care, may be unable to afford the care they need to control their lives and plan their families and futures. Research has shown that when politicians restrict Medicaid coverage for abortion, they force one in four poor women on Medicaid to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.
The pandemic has laid bare long-existent, systemic disparities that have led to Black communities experiencing some of the highest rates of infections, deaths, and job loss. Black folks are nearly three times more likely to contract COVID-19, and Black pregnant women five times as likely as white women to be infected. Women of color comprise the majority of low-wage workers, and one survey found 55 percent of Black women have less than $200 in savings, while 48 percent of Black women are struggling to cover fundamental expenses like food and housing during the pandemic.
2020 must be the last year that the Hyde Amendment denies abortion coverage to people who are struggling. Years of leadership by women of color champions in Congress, young people, and Black women reproductive justice leaders—raising our voices and putting it all on the line to fight for justice in our communities—have resulted in the greatest momentum to end Hyde yet. Today, after years of organizing, not only does the majority of national voters support Medicaid coverage for abortion, a record number of elected officials in Congress have signed on to the EACH Woman Act, a bold piece of legislation that ensures each of us—however we get our health insurance—has abortion coverage.
Voters and politicians know that right now, amid a public health and economic crisis, health care coverage for all is an essential piece of the fight for racial justice. And now more than ever, that coverage must include abortion.
From being targeted by police violence, to being denied living wages and health care, to being unable to reach the abortion and reproductive care we need, all of these are rooted in systemic racism, oppression and state violence. There is no way forward without uprooting this status quo and ensuring everyone has the resources they need to parent, not parent, live, and thrive in safe and healthy communities. We can start by putting an end to Hyde and its harmful legacy once and for all.
Marcela Howell is the founder and President/CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda