For advocates and activists working to protect abortion rights, as well as those who care deeply about a person’s ability to access abortion freely and safely, the past few weeks have been hard to bear. States including Missouri, Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana have passed some of the most extreme abortion bans to date — with the clear goal of creating a legal pathway to strike down Roe v. Wade, a goal conservatives have been driving at since Roe was decided in 1973.
It feels as though each day we awaken to news of a recently surfaced abortion ban, or a new legal challenge to the constitutionally protected right that has been in place for more than 45 years.
While conservatives’ attacks on women’s rights are not new, they do serve as a reminder to progressives that we need leaders who are ready and willing to fight for women. With Roe under threat, thankfully some Democratic presidential hopefuls have rallied around the urgent need to protect the law and ensure access to care for the 11 million women in this country who the right to abortion does not equate to access. Many have made affirmative statements on the constitutional right to abortion and included concrete actions on how they would accomplish this as president.
As of today, all of the plans of top-tier progressive candidates also include the equally important policy action of repealing the Hyde Amendment, a decades-old abortion coverage ban on the Medicaid program, with exceptions for rape, incest and endangerment to the life of the woman.
Bans on coverage of abortion also exist in every other federally funded health insurance program including Medicare, Indian Health Service, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, CHIP and Tricare. These bans fall hardest on low-income people and women of color who, due to persistent discrimination and structural racism in this country, are most likely to experience barriers in access to comprehensive health care and lack the out-of-pocket costs necessary to attain an abortion. Furthermore, these are also communities that are more likely to live in places that lack reasonable proximity to an abortion provider.
For anyone who claims to support a woman’s right to choose, this should really be a no-brainer. Practically, all people with the capacity to get pregnant need both the right to abortion and access to the quality health care that goes along with it. And politically, in 2016, abortion rights groups — including the National Network of Abortion Funds, All Above All, and others who have worked tirelessly over the years to get Hyde repealed — successfully lobbied to get the policy’s repeal included in the Democratic Party platform. Progressives in Congress have built on this progress by pushing landmark legislation to ensure coverage of abortion for all people with federally funded health insurance, while also prohibiting interference from politicians in women’s health care decision.
At a time when black women are dying due to pregnancy-related causes at a rate three to four times that of their white peers, the importance of ensuring that no person go without access to abortion is not solely an ideological response to conservative abortion bans — it is frankly about valuing black mothers’ lives. Most Democratic candidates have acknowledged the inequities driving our maternal mortality crisis, but it’s only the leaders with specific plans to ensure no person goes without abortion access due to lack of insurance coverage or the ability to pay who can say that they are truly committed to reproductive justice and addressing these disparities.
Bold, progressive leadership on abortion — from presidential candidate to current elected officials in Congress and in states — must include efforts to protect Roe, as well as working to ensure that the Hyde Amendment is repealed, affirming that abortion is health care, and trusting women to make the best health care decisions for themselves.
Progressive leaders, including the next president of the United States, can’t take us backward — it is more important than ever to take bold action on both abortion rights and access. And if any progressive leaders should find themselves wavering, they should follow the lead of the millions of Americans who have been loud and clear that support for abortion is a winning issue — and one they increasingly prioritize.
Women, and namely women of color, will be a powerful voting force in the next election. We overwhelmingly support access to abortion, which is critical to our ability to have reproductive autonomy, parent and support our families with dignity, and lead productive lives. It is well past the time when women’s votes should be taken for granted. Presidential candidates must continue to move the debate forward by responding with concrete policy solutions that reflect the realities of women’s lives.