Last week, President Obama released his annual budget proposal for the 2015 fiscal year. The budget is our chance to get a clear understanding of the priorities held by the highest office in the land. This year the administration has placed a focus on increasing economic security and expanding economic opportunity for low and middle-income Americans.
In his proposal, the president called for an “end to the era of austerity.” He also talked about creating jobs and economic opportunities for the American people. While I’m certainly on board with these sentiments, I know that we cannot have true economic justice in a world where low-income women are denied access to the healthcare that they need. Economic policies aimed at raising the minimum wage, creating jobs, and investing in education access are critical endeavors but the positive economic benefit of these policies will always be limited and short lived in a world where low-income women are denied access to abortion.
The Hyde Amendment, which denies health coverage for abortion to those enrolled in Medicaid, is one of the oldest restrictions to limit access to abortion in the United States. There is no single policy in America with a more far reaching, deeply felt impact on women’s access to abortion than Hyde. Passing just three years after the landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade, it is a policy that blatantly and overtly distinguishes between the rights of the poor and the rights of the economically privileged. The implications of these restrictions are extreme, cyclical and dehumanizing.
For the 22 million women on Medicaid, this is not an abstract political fight – it’s about their livelihood, their families, and their future. Beyond Medicaid, Hyde spawned further legislation that banned coverage for anyone receiving their health insurance from government programs like the Peace Corps, Indian Health Services and Federal government employees.
These bans represent the clearest examples of the systematic way that economic structures target vulnerable communities and dissolve opportunities for poor people to change the circumstances and conditions of their lives.
In fact, The Hyde Amendment perpetuates the cycle of poverty. A woman who wants to get an abortion but is denied is three times more likely to fall into poverty than a woman who can get an abortion.
Access to abortion care is critical to the alleviation of poverty. And the elimination of poverty is essential to achieving reproductive freedom and justice. The two are inextricably linked. Until we recognize - and take seriously - this truth, I’m afraid that the promise of both reproductive and economic justice will be nothing more than a hollow gesture.
If we’re fighting for a world where economic opportunity and prosperity are available to all, we must prioritize the reproductive health needs of low-income women and families. We have to stop accepting the false - yet pervasive - notion that the Hyde Amendment is untouchable. We need to abandon the dominant narrative that abortion funding is a losing battle, or an “unfortunate, but necessary” compromise. We can no longer afford to accept a line in the sand when it comes to abortion - especially one that sacrifices the health and dignity of the most vulnerable Americans. Until income no longer determines a person’s ability to have an abortion, parent, or get an education, economic opportunity and prosperity is nothing more than a false promise.
This is why Choice USA has joined a bold new coalition called All* Above All, aimed at rolling back the unjust Hyde Amendment and its ugly progenies. Folks all around the country are declaring that these political compromises are no longer acceptable -- it’s time to lift the bans on abortion coverage. This campaign has generated energy from young people and communities across the country, all of whom understand the connections between access to reproductive health care and economic opportunity because we are living at these intersections.
There is no better time than the present to flip the script and shift the narrative.
We need an economic agenda that centers the needs of the most vulnerable. Along with health coverage for the full range of pregnancy-related care including abortion, we need an agenda that prioritizes early access to childhood education; better wages that reflect the twenty first century workforce; adequate workplace protections for LGBTQ Americans; fair treatment of pregnant and/or parenting employees; strong and sustainable social service programs; true health care without exception; and access to an affordable college education.
We are living in a unique, unparalleled political moment. It’s time to shift priorities to show that access to reproductive healthcare is a pocketbook issue that without which, economic and reproductive justice are impossible. It should be an economic priority to make sure that every person can make their own healthcare decisions - no matter how much money they make.
Jenkins is an activist working at Choice USA.