Why the Hyde Amendment Helps Low-Income Women
by Rachel MacNair
In the US, the 40th anniversary of the Hyde amendment’s first passage was September 30, 2016. The amendment is a legislative provision that taxpayers, especially through the Medicaid program, don’t pay for most abortions. Medicaid provides health care for low-income people and goes state-by-state, so when the amendment passed, some states immediately stopped funding, but others continued funding abortions on their own.
Here are several reasons why the impact of the Hyde amendment has been positive:
Abortion funding helps promote racism.
Social worker Erma Clardy Craven points out:
“It takes little imagination to see that the unborn Black baby is the real object of many abortionists. Except for the privilege of aborting herself, the Black woman and her family must fight for every other social and economic privilege.”
(Hilgers, Thomas W. & Dennis J. Horan, eds. 1972. Abortion and Social Justice. New York: Sheed & Ward)
One of the abortion doctors she has in mind, Edward Allred, was quoted in the San Diego Union, October 12, 1980:
“When a sullen black woman of 17 or 18 can decide to have a baby and get welfare and food stamps and become a burden to us all, it’s time to stop. In parts of South Los Angeles, having babies for welfare is the only industry the people have.”
Dr. Allred’s aversion to government subsidies did not prevent him from accepting millions in California tax dollars for his abortion practice.
Abortions may cause poverty.
(For a longer explanation including references, see Studies Suggesting Induced Abortion May Increase the Feminization of Poverty)
An increased feminization of poverty – that is, poverty in which women are a larger portion of those afflicted – coincides remarkably closely to the period of increasingly legalized abortion.
Some argued that the availability of abortion should help avoid this phenomenon, with women not losing jobs due to childbirth and having no burdens of child care. But with the pattern worsening during the period when there was an upsurge in abortions, abortion has at the very least been inadequate at solving the problem.
Instead, abortion may be contributing to the problem. Through an increase in broken relationships, psychological difficulties, and substance abuse, a practice which is performed exclusively on women may put them at greater economic disadvantage.
The many studies that show a correlation between abortion and a reduction in women’s economic well-being don’t prove a clear causation. Some argue the causation is in the other direction. It’s not that the abortions cause the difficulties, but that problems with unhealthy sexual relations with men, domestic violence, and similar challenges may cause both the abortions and the subsequent problems that are correlated with them.
However, another causal factor must be taken into account: how much does the ready access to abortion cause the problems of exploitational sexual attitudes and self-righteous denials of responsibility by men?
Medicaid funding of abortion causes abortions.
One study from the research arm of Planned Parenthood showed that women on Medicaid in states which don’t fund abortion in their Medicaid programs have an abortion rate 1.6 times higher than women of higher income. So it’s likely that poverty leads to more abortions, a point that few would be surprised by.
But the same study reports the abortion rate in states with Medicaid funding is 3.9 times higher for women on Medicaid.
As mentioned above, after the Hyde amendment passed, several states stopped funding abortions right away, but others continued to fund abortions for low-income women. This set up a natural experiment: states that had abortion funding one year and didn’t the very next year could be compared to states that kept abortion funding the same.
A review of 38 studies on the impact of Medicaid funding over the years essentially showed that in those states which stopped such funding, both abortions and childbirths went down. In other words, the abortions that didn’t happen because of the lack of funding were not on the whole replaced by women continuing the pregnancies; many of them were replaced by couples taking more care about becoming pregnant.
The assumption behind Medicaid funding has been that pregnancies occur whether or not funding is available, so funding only determines whether those pregnancies continue or not. However, the impact of funding doesn’t appear to be as neutral as people are assuming. This leads to the next point:
Medicaid funding of abortion means government subsidizing of male domination in sexual relationships.
Most of the time, when a person engages in behavior that could lead to a need for a medical procedure, that same person is the one that goes through the procedure. If I don’t brush my teeth, I’m the one who gets cavities. Even if cavity-filling is free of cost in money to me, I’m motivated to avoid it because of the cost in time and unpleasantness.
The same applies for a woman who engages in behavior that can lead to pregnancy. Yet it doesn’t apply to the man who engages in the same behavior. He’s not the one that has to go through surgery.
If he knows the government will take care of the monetary cost, then sex is free to him. It’s government-subsidized. This won’t matter in situations where women have strict control over their own sex lives, but can be devastating in those situations where men have more control or ability to pressure for sex.
Medicaid funding of abortion means government participation in pressure and coercion of women.
From high school counselors and social workers to family members and the unborn child’s father, it’s often true that other people have decided what’s good for a pregnant woman, and aren’t interested in her participation in that conversation. As long as the abortion is government-subsidized, their ability to pressure her – or give her insufficient time to think it over – becomes all the greater.
For more on connections of poverty and racism to both abortion and the death penalty, see chapter 7 of Consistently Opposing Killing: From Abortion to Assisted Suicide, the Death Penalty, and War, published by Praeger in 2008.
For more on the impact of various kinds of abortion restrictions – not only in the US, but world-wide – see Chapter 15 of Peace Psychology Perspectives on Abortion.
For more of our blog posts on abortion and the law, see: