by Samantha Romero, West Fund President
What if I told you there was a way to expand abortion access to people who need it the most? Friday, September 30th marks the 40th year that the discriminatory Hyde Amendment has been federal policy. The Hyde Amendment blocks people who have health insurance through Medicaid from getting abortion coverage through their insurance, except in certain instances.
This policy was pushed by the late Illinois Congressman named Henry Hyde, who ACTUALLY said,
"I would certainly like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion: a rich woman, a middle class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the [Medicaid] bill.” - Henry Hyde
Yeah, you read that right. He couldn’t prevent everyone from accessing abortion, so he targeted low-income people and women of color — who already face significant health disparities – who rely on Medicaid for access to health care, making abortion the only medical procedure explicitly banned from Medicaid. What is even more sinister about this policy is that it cemented the idea that having an abortion for health reasons or because the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest meant that you had a “good enough” reason to access abortion, and in those cases, it could be covered. Abortion stigma was written into the Hyde Amendment. The truth is that people who have money and privilege, will always be able to access abortion when they need to — as they should — but everyone should be able to. It makes absolutely no sense to force someone who can’t afford insurance or is having trouble making ends meet to carry a pregnancy to term, against their best judgement and against their will. We need to trust people to make their own sexual health and parenting decisions, and that’s why it’s critical we repeal the Hyde Amendment. Stats show that over 70% of people who access abortion say it’s for economic reasons, citing the quality of life their child would have. Over 65% of the people who call the West Fund for abortion funding help are already parents, so they know the money, time and energy that’s required for raising a child. If you take nothing else away from this, know that abortion restrictions go against medical science and forces people already struggling deeper into poverty.
Here’s why it matters to West Texas:
Texas extremist lawmakers continue unpopular and harmful policies. Sex education isn’t taught unless it’s abstinence only and focuses on purity — not about consent or how to prevent pregnancy or STDs. They refused federal health money, specifically to cut Planned Parenthood health centers and other abortion providers out of the state’s health contract (and now awarded $1.6 million dollars to an anti-abortion group that provides no medical services), and they failed to expand Medicaid access. On top of that, state leadership makes it a habit to sue the federal government over LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights or access to birth control while cutting back on education spending.
What it creates is a state with rigid norms and expectations when it comes to gender, sexuality, race, class, ability, religion, and so much more. Texas is a hostile place, and people are struggling enough as it is. Still in Texas, it’s considered shameful to ask for money, to get government assistance, to be gay, to be “too Mexican.” It’s shameful to be a sexual being and it’s shameful to need an abortion. I am in awe of our patients who fight through stigma to call our helpline every day to do what’s best for them and their families. Not presenting people with alternatives and options like abortion is what is actually shameful, selfish, and inhumane. #CanILive, Texas? Texas’ policies marginalize its citizens, especially poor people of color, and it’s time that they correct these wrongs and stop attacking access to abortion. People have the right to make decisions that are best for them and their families.
What's more, over half the people who call the West Fund have insurance, but that insurance cannot be used to cover abortion. One third of El Paso’s population is uninsured, and another third is on Medicaid. We have one of the poorest zip codes in the nation and many people live well under the federal poverty line. Rural communities even within El Paso county have even more barriers to accessing reproductive health care. We also have one of the nation’s largest military bases, Fort Bliss — and get this: Even if you serve your country and get pregnant in active duty, your health care will NOT cover abortion, thanks to the Hyde Amendment.
Here’s why it’s personal:
When I had my abortion, my partner and I were young, recent college grads, underemployed, and financially insecure. We were in love and trying to move in together, so luckily I was saving money. Despite planning a future together, we knew we were in no position to start a family. We talked about our dreams and aspirations. We wanted the ability to provide our children with a decent living and a home. Thankfully, we believed an abortion to be the best option for me.
I was ashamed to be in the whole situation. Aside from my partner, I was embarrassed to tell anyone about needing an abortion because of the stigma. During my abortion I was lucky to have my partner, and lucky to have $1200. If I didn’t have that money, I would've had to resort to other measures. I might have put myself in danger. I was going to have an abortion one way or another. Abortions are illegal in Mexico and even as an El Pasoan, going to Juarez is not something I do often. I’m not a fluent Spanish speaker and putting myself in a foreign place to do something illegal is something no one should have to resort to.
As a pansexual Latina, I’m lucky. In my safehaven of far West Texas, I could afford an abortion, I had a provider, I didn’t have to put myself at risk. Now, because I made the right choice for me, I’m pursuing my Master’s, I love what I study, I have a new partner, I’m in love with her <3 and I’m happy.
The Hyde Amendment is robbing people’s futures and chance at happiness. It takes away from the people who need that chance the most. In a beautiful, hard-working, minority majority community like El Paso, we deserve to have every possible opportunity available to us, including full, unfettered access to abortion. - Samantha Romero