Remember the Gothic story by Robert Louis Stevenson, "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"? How a brilliant doctor, Henry Jekyll, drinks a serum that makes him turn into the sinister and ruthless Mr. Hyde? This week, you might be reminded of the story, because Sept. 30 was the 43rd anniversary of the sinister and ruthless Hyde Amendment.
In the words of then-Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, “The Hyde Amendment is designed to deprive poor and minority women of the constitutional right to choose abortion.”
It was the work of U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde, of Illinois. It denied Medicaid funding for abortion care in all cases except to save the life of the mother.
What you may not know is that the Hyde Amendment has been renewed by U.S. legislators every year since its passage. It continues the ban as Mr. Hyde sponsored it, while adding an exception for some cases of rape and incest. In 2016, the Democratic Party finally made a call to repeal Hyde, and in response, the House of Representatives, led by then-Speaker Paul Ryan from Wisconsin, passed a bill that would have made Hyde permanent law. Thankfully, the Senate did not pass that bill.
By renewing Hyde every year for 42 years, Congress has declared to millions of Americans with public insurance: if you get pregnant, you don't deserve all your legal health care options.
In Wisconsin, the legacy of Mr. Hyde is public punishment of pregnant people who already bear burdens of stigma, health disparities and health care obstacles. These are rural people, people living in food or health care deserts, in areas of pollution exposure, people who lose their jobs, people who work three minimum-wage jobs, people who are homeless, ill or disabled.
Some states, including Minnesota and Illinois, have approved state funding for abortion care. Illinois (home of Mr. Hyde) offers same-day, no-cost abortion services for people on Medicaid, just as Medicaid in all 50 states offers same-day, no-cost prenatal services. The University of Illinois-Chicago blazed a trail ahead of California by offering pill abortions directly through its student health program. No picket lines. No stress-inducing waiting periods and unnecessary extra visits. No demeaning hoop-jumping.
This is why Pregnancy Options Wisconsin declared Sept. 30th "A Sinister Day in Wisconsin."
Most pregnant people who call our 24/7 pregnancy call line have already made a plan for their pregnancy. Some people are homeless and ask for help finding supplies and shelter for their pill abortion. Some people need transportation to one of the three clinics left in the state for in-clinic abortion. Some people can not afford the full $600 (and upward) for the abortion itself.
As midwives, nurses, doulas and doctors, we call out a sinister and ruthless truth: none of us would be forced to call up strangers and plead for help to pay for our rightful and most private, fundamental health care. We call on Wisconsin to desegregate abortion options and access from the full spectrum of pregnancy health care. When that happens, we'll declare it "A Healthier Day in Wisconsin."
Ingrid Andersson, MSN, CNM, is a co-founder of Pregnancy Options Wisconsin | Education, Resources, & Support (POWERS), a full-spectrum pregnancy options network supporting pregnant people as the authorities over their bodies and lives.
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