Just a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hosting our annual booth at the Minnesota State Fair, to talk to community members about reproductive health and what they can do to support women’s decision-making. As always, I was impressed and encouraged by the tremendous compassion and caring shown by our residents. Minnesotans pride ourselves on our values, values we live by in addition to talking about them, values we pass on to our kids.
Take Thomas, for example, who has brought his son Joshua to our booth for years, each year letting him pick out one of our buttons with messages like “reproductive health is awesome,” “trust women” and “sex education is my right.” Thomas went on to tell us that he uses this opportunity to discuss sex, sexuality, abortion, and human rights issues with his son – issues Thomas believes are important for his son to hear about from his father and conversations he wants his son to feel open about having with him throughout his entire life.
Every year at the fair, and at our community events throughout the year, I am reminded that here in Minnesota, we believe in treating people with respect and giving everyone a fair shake. So perhaps it’s a good time for those Minnesota values to start informing national policy, particularly when it comes to women’s health.
Minnesota is one of 15 states that include coverage for abortion in state Medicaid health programs. This policy just makes sense: It means that those who are already struggling to make ends meet have coverage for the full range of reproductive health services. This doesn’t mean people seeking abortion in our state don’t face any barriers. Many still struggle to pay for the costs of child care, transportation, and unpaid time off of work. But at least in our state, low-income people aren’t denied health coverage for abortion just for being poor.
However, in 35 states and D.C., a woman is denied abortion coverage just because she’s poor, due to the federal Hyde Amendment, a shameful policy that will be 40 years old on Sept. 30. Nationally, Hyde forces one in four poor women seeking an abortion to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term — an injustice that must end.
Other groups lack coverage as well
Moreover, Hyde has spawned similar policies that do affect Minnesotans. Right now, military members, veterans, Peace Corps volunteers, incarcerated women, and Native American women who are insured through the Indian Health Service are denied abortion coverage due to these federal bans.
At Pro-Choice Resources, we believe women and communities thrive when women are able to make the reproductive health-care decisions that are best for themselves and their families. In addition to community education and leadership development, our work includes answering calls from and providing support to people who need abortions across the state. When a woman on the line tells us her story — a story that represents the experiences of tens of thousands of people living in Minnesota and throughout the Midwest each year — we answer each call with care, with honor, and with the resounding belief that our clients deserve respect. And the bravery to accept nothing less.
Pregnant women will only be able to make the decisions that are best for themselves and their families when they have access to unbiased information and assistance, and they can have an abortion, make an adoption plan, or decide to parent without stigma. Each day we pick up our phone line and listen to many people tell us about their hopes and fears, and hear the gratitude in their voices when we are able to help.
People’s abortion stories are stories of challenge and triumph, friendship and family, and so much more. These complexities, the complexities of real women’s lives, are not reflected in the political debate over abortion laws that perpetuate abortion stigma and allow policies like Hyde to continue.
When a woman is living paycheck to paycheck, denying coverage for an abortion can push her deeper into poverty. The Hyde Amendment disproportionately affects those who are low-income, people of color, the young, immigrants, and people who live in rural communities. Simply put: The Hyde Amendment is another form of reproductive oppression.
In the long run, it makes good sense that health programs for low-income women cover birth control and abortion, not just childbirth, because when people can plan when to have children, it’s good for them and their families.
After working in this community for over 25 years, I can safely say that ending Hyde would reflect the values Minnesotans hold close, including respect, support, and reproductive freedom. It’s time to repeal this harmful policy — and I believe Minnesotans can help point the way.
Karen Law is the executive director of Pro-Choice Resources.
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