Hyde Amendment Restrictions Impose Harsh Costs on Low-Income Latinas

Last week President Barack Obama released his budget for fiscal year 2010. The document allocates hundreds of billions of dollars to initiatives designed to help struggling families navigate the treacherous waters of recession. The president wisely called for funding cuts to programs consistently proven ineffective, including abstinence-only sexuality education. Regrettably, he forgot to remove an archaic provision that, today more than ever, thwarts the economic survival and undermines healthy living for low-income women across America, the so-called Hyde Amendment.

Latinas, more likely to be poor and uninsured, top the list of those affected by the restrictions posed by this law. The Hyde Amendment, one of the first and most enduring efforts from right-wing extremists to deny reproductive freedom to women, has for more than 30 years prohibited the use of federal funds to subsidize access to abortion for low-income women who receive Medicaid. The only exceptions to these prohibitions are the cases of rape, incest or if the woman’s life is in danger. Among Medicaid recipients of reproductive age, nearly one-fourth (two million) are Hispanic. According to figures from the Guttmacher Institute, 60 percent of women who had abortions in 2000 had incomes of less than twice the poverty level –below $28,000 per year for a family of three.
Yet, economic concern is only one reason why women across the spectrum choose to have abortions. While most (75%) cite economic pressure, the same percentage say that having a baby would interfere with work or school; half do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner. Regardless of their reasons, women deserve full access to information and services that can help them make, without coercion, decisions that are most appropriate to their unique individual realities. The Hyde prohibition and other discriminatory policies deny women this essential right. Because Latinas tend to be poorer than non-Latinas – therefore less likely to have access to contraceptive methods and counseling – they experience a disproportionate share of the unintended pregnancies in the U.S. According to 2007 reports by Pew Hispanic Center, Latinas are twice as likely as non-Latinas to live in poverty.
One in five Hispanic women live in poverty, compared with one in ten non-Hispanic women. Immigrant Hispanic women are slightly more likely than native-born Hispanic women to live in poverty, 22% versus 18%. Likewise, Latinas who work full time earn less than non-Latinas, and the gap grows even wider for recent immigrants. The cost of an abortion can be more than a full month of earnings for a poor family, especially in the midst of the employment crisis. Without public funding, the choices of impoverished Latinas facing unwanted pregnancies are dreadful. They are forced to find a way, however risky, to secure money for an abortion. In the mildest of cases, a woman might sacrifice money that would otherwise be used to pay for rent, utility bills and groceries. For those struggling to collect the money, each passing day represents a greater risk of health complications from later term abortions. When essential funds are not available, some low-income Latinas are effectively denied reproductive freedom and must carry to term unplanned pregnancies.
In their desperation, they might even decide to run the risk of an unsafe, self-induced abortion. In 2005, there were 1.21 million abortions in the United States and today, about 22% of all women having abortions are Latinas. Latinas in the United States have a much higher rate of unintended pregnancy compared to white women, and therefore a higher rate of abortion. The complex landscape of why so many women face unintended pregnancy and what choices are available to them points to the urgent need to treat reproductive health care as a public health priority, not a political debate. For the most disadvantaged, abortion is as inaccessible as if it were still illegal.
The White House’s proposed budget condones a two-tier health system, in which women with private health insurance or private funds can exercise their right to an abortion, but poor women cannot. Women choose abortion for a myriad of reasons, economic and otherwise. We urge President Obama and Congress to rethink the 2010 budget and give way to sensible health policies that guarantee health, freedom and dignity for all women, including poor Latinas.

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