Abortion rights supporters outside the Jackson Women’s Health Organization Inc., Mississippi’s only commercial abortion clinic. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
The reproductive rights movement is often stuck playing defense: doing its best to fight back against the proliferation of anti-choice restrictions, but failing to push policies that would expand access to abortion. Thirty-seven years after the Hyde Amendment stripped poor women of Medicaid coverage for abortion—and turned abortion into a legal right that was out of reach for many—the movement is back on offense.
A new campaign to fight bans on abortion coverage, All* Above All: United to Restore and Sustain Abortion Coverage for Low-Income Women, is harnessing the energy of supporters who are ready to take a stand against Hyde. All* Above All uses grassroots and online organizing to motivate policymakers to stop attacks on coverage and, ultimately, overturn the Hyde Amendment. The campaign is also protecting policies in the fifteen states that provide state Medicaid coverage of abortion for low-income women. I see urgency sweeping reproductive rights and justice groups—and a new commitment to put the lives of poor women, women of color, and young women center stage in a way that was unthinkable a few years ago. A movement that was primarily focused on not losing more ground is now setting its sights on ensuring that every woman can make and carry out her own decision about abortion.
Why is the moment ripe now, when abortion access has been a too-often neglected front in the struggle for reproductive rights since Hyde was first passed?
Over the past few years, a changing political climate has presented new possibilities for the abortion funding fight. The rising electorate of people of color, young people and white unmarried women, along with the Occupy movement, has shifted the terrain and crystallized national unease with steadily deepening inequality—and brought into stark relief the disconnect between having a legal right, and having the resources to exercise it.
The losses for abortion rights in healthcare reform also rekindled outrage among advocates. In the public debate about abortion coverage Congress and the Obama administration failed over and over to acknowledge the needs of poor women and women of color whose lives and futures were at stake. Foes of abortion rights extracted major concessions that resulted in burdensome requirements for coverage in the new insurance marketplaces and opened the door to virtual elimination of coverage of abortion in twenty-three states. When the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) partnered with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health to organize a national convening on abortion access for poor women post–healthcare reform, virtually every group connected to abortion rights wanted to be in the room. The meeting launched a working group, drew more and more advocates to the table, and has now grown into the All* Above All campaign.
Led by women of color, young people, and reproductive health and justice groups, this diverse coalition is engaging the broad base of supporters, with a focus on reaching the rising electorate. A poll of voters commissioned by NNAF for the coalition’s internal strategic purposes demonstrates that people of color, voters making under $30,000 a year, young people and white unmarried women object strongly to unfair treatment in access to abortion based on income.
But it’s not simply new political realities that have pried open doors long locked shut. The reproductive rights and justice movements have come of age in important ways since Hyde’s initial passage. Women of color reproductive justice activists hastened the exit of the old “privacy” and “choice” frameworks that never could speak to the structural barriers—racism, economic inequity and discrimination against women—that compromise women’s ability to make decisions about their pregnancies and have the families they want. They articulated and fought for an agenda that did not focus on abortion alone but linked it to the conditions of women’s lives. Using a human rights framework, they enabled activists to talk about what is necessary for justice, dignity, and freedom for women of color, low-income women, and all of us. This is the powerful context in which All* Above All fights for abortion coverage in Medicaid, a context that speaks to racial and economic justice, names the disproportionate impact on women of color and engages social justice advocates from many movements.