A Nation Without the Hyde Amendment Will Be Safer and More Humane for All of Us

Abortion, like all healthcare, should be a human right—not merely a benefit of select insurance plans. 

An abortion rights demonstrator in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 25, 2022, a day after the Supreme Court released a decision on Dobbs v. .Jackson Women’s Health Organization, striking down the right to abortion. (Stefani Reynolds / AFP via Getty Images)

Over four decades ago, millions of people woke up without abortion care. 

On Sept. 30, 1976, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Hyde Amendment, which barred federal funds from covering abortions with the narrowest exceptions for rape, incest or threats to a patient’s life. As soon as Hyde went into effect, the number of Medicaid-covered abortions in the United States dropped from 300,000 to just a few thousand. 

Today, the Hyde Amendment limits abortion coverage for many of the 31 million women on Medicaid and those covered by the Indian Health Service and Children’s Health Insurance Program. When added to the Americans trapped in programs that have adopted the amendment’s language—including recipients of military and federal benefits—the number of people the Hyde Amendment has barred from full healthcare is incalculable.

Like many abortion restrictions, this hurts women of color most. Black and Latina women are most likely to be covered by Medicaid and struggle to access abortion services. For many Native Americans, the Hyde Amendment prohibited the protections of Roe v. Wade, before it was overturned, from ever reaching their doctors’ offices. And as an Asian American woman in the reproductive justice movement, I’ve seen the Hyde Amendment reshape life for countless Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) families. 

Yet conversations about the Hyde Amendment often overlook AAPI communities. For us, statistics continue to paint an incomplete picture, even though as many as one-third of pregnancies in the AAPI community end in abortion. Less than 10 percent of Asian Americans as a whole are enrolled in Medicaid—but over 30 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders and 20 percent of Southeast Asians, including Vietnamese, Laotian, Hmong, and Cambodian Americans, rely on the program. 

As a result, these groups must scale higher barriers to access abortion—denied first by insurance, and second by the staggering costs of abortion care. An abortion can cost anywhere from $500 to over $3,000, depending on the timing and type of procedure. That’s before adding the additional costs of childcare, taking time off work or losing a job, and traveling across state lines to bypass draconian abortion restrictions in your home state.   

For many, these costs lead to the end of reproductive freedom. Nearly half of Southeast Asian Americans are low-income, while 15 percent of Native Hawaiians in the United States live at the federal poverty level. Together, over 1.3 million Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander women live in states that have banned or are likely to enact abortion bans. 

Abortion, like all healthcare, should be a human right—not merely a benefit of select insurance plans. 

Not having access to safe and affordable abortion care threatens the fabric and livelihood of our communities. Women who are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term are four times more likely to live in poverty. They are more likely to stay with abusive partners and to experience serious pregnancy complications like eclampsia, and even death. 

The solution is clear: Congress must repeal the Hyde Amendment by passing legislation like the EACH Act. We must fulfill the will of the more than half of Asian Americans who believe Medicaid should cover abortion services and the 86 percent of women of color voters who want their legislators to respect a woman’s authority over her own reproductive health. As states enact devastating abortion laws and Republicans threaten a federal abortion ban, our public representatives must interrupt business-as-usual and put the health and well-being of women and people of color first. 

At the same time, organizations that serve AAPI communities must continue to gather accurate and comprehensive data on abortion—from those who use abortion care as well as those who are denied it. 

The AAPI community is far from monolithic and only by illuminating the diversity of the AAPI community can we develop an accurate understanding of abortion care—and of the actions needed to safeguard it. 

By repealing the Hyde Amendment, we can move toward a better quality of care for vulnerable populations, and for everyone who may need an abortion. A nation without Hyde will be a safer, more humane home for all of us—from working mothers to young students, immigrants to third-generation, and every person who cares for their health and hopes to create their own destinies. 

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.

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Sung Yeon Choimorrow is the executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, the nation’s only organization dedicated to building power with Asian American Pacific Islander women and girls. She is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church. You can follow her @schoimorrow.