Black Women to Democrats: Defend Our Rights!

Hyde Amendment; Black Women to Democrats: Defend Our Rights!
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) speaks at a #StopTheBans rally in front of the Supreme Court in D.C. on May 21, 2019. (Wikimedia Commons)

Just months after we celebrated the bicentennial of our country, Congress struck a blow against women’s health and rights with passage of Rep. Henry Hyde’s amendment to a funding bill for the then-Department of Health, Education and Welfare, to ban the use of federal funds for abortion.

Women and pregnant people who depend on the government for their health care coverage have been denied insurance coverage for access to abortion care ever since.

While it’s popular today to blame Republicans for abortion restrictions because they primarily vote to limit or eliminate access to abortion, that’s not the whole story. Time and time again, Democrats—who talk a good game about supporting women’s reproductive health and rights—are too often willing to use funding for abortion for poor women as a bargaining chit for something else they want during negotiations. But women of low-income are not bargaining tools. 

Yet House Democrats, under the leadership of Speaker Pelosi, continue to use them as just that. Just this summer, Democrats brokered a deal to attach the Hyde Amendment to the appropriations bill. This fundamental act of betrayal put the health care of poor women, many of whom are Black women, on the auction block, selling off our access to full reproductive health without even a fight—even a small skirmish. The cynical opportunism from the very people we elected to protect our rights has made many women of color question these politician’s commitment.

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Women of color, especially Black women, voted to give Democrats control of the House of Representatives because Democrats vowed to fight for us. Instead, Speaker Pelosi and her caucus bartered away Black women’s reproductive rights, in what has become an all-too-familiar sellout. Democrats who supported the Hyde Amendment and have repeatedly traded Black women’s rights for political expediency need to listen to us now.

Election after election, we register voters, organize our communities and deliver the votes that give so many elected officials in Congress their jobs. In exchange, Black women expect—rather, demand—that the candidates we vote for, represent our interests and our rights once they take office. 

We must hold our elected leaders accountable. Right now, we are redoubling our efforts to engage Black women with our #IAMAVOTER campaign. Once again we are working hard to ensure that every Black woman’s vote is cast and counted. 

But we expect our rights to be respected, our issues prioritized, and our lives protected. We will hold those we elect accountable for their votes. But enough is enough. The Hyde Amendment must be eliminated. Defend Black women’s reproductive rights or don’t count on our votes!

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Marcela Howell is the founder and president of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda and the former senior policy and communications consultant for Communications Consortium Media Center and vice president of policy, communications and marketing at Advocates for Youth. She has a master's in literature from Saint Louis University and a J.D. from Pepperdine School of Law. You can follow Marcela on Twitter at @BlackWomensRJ.