My name is Renee Bracey Sherman and I’m submitting written testimony as a Steering Committee member of All* Above All Action Fund, a political organization committed to building the power of all people of color to lift the bans on abortion coverage.
This is a crucial moment for Black and Brown communities, women, LGBTQ folks, immigrants, and young people. Our communities are trying to survive a pandemic and people are rising for racial justice all over the country, fighting for a future in which we can control our own bodies, safely care for our families, and be free from violence. We are reimagining a world in which each of us makes a living wage; all of us, including Black essential workers like Breonna Taylor who are saving lives during the pandemic, live free from violence; and everyone has access to the full-spectrum of reproductive health care, including abortion.
For far too long, anti-abortion politicians from both parties have interfered in reproductive health decisions by restricting insurance coverage for abortion care. Since it was first passed in 1976 to restrict Medicaid coverage of abortion, the Hyde amendment has been expanded to include coverage bans on many other groups of people, including federal employees and their dependents, people in federal prisons and immigrant detention centers, enrollees in Indian Health Service Peace Corps volunteers, and military personnel and their dependents.
Additionally, the Trump Administration recently finalized a rule intended to make it much more difficult for people to get abortion coverage through health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act. Even worse, we’ve seen anti-choice politicians capitalize on the COVID-19 pandemic to restrict abortion access and coverage at the state and federal levels and shut down clinics.
Practically speaking, for those who are struggling to make ends meet—Black, Indigenous, and women of color, low-income people, young people, immigrants—a coverage ban might as well be a ban on abortion all together. When I had my abortion at 19 years old, I struggled to pay for the procedure. I couldn’t use my parents’ health insurance because I wasn’t ready to tell them about my decision, but also because my father was an Illinois state employee and the state version of the Hyde Amendment would have barred me from using my insurance for an abortion. Like many people, I did the mental calculations of how many hours I’d need to work to pay for my abortion and still have money to afford gas in my car to get to work. Even though I was standing in the clinic, which was only 15 minutes away from my home, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to have the procedure. I maxxed out my only credit card and figured I’d deal with it later because I needed the abortion. My life depended on it. The Hyde amendment and other restrictions on insurance coverage of abortion create one of, if not the, most onerous barriers to abortion care. Let’s be clear: it’s not enough for abortion to be legal, it must also be affordable and available to ALL people.
But the tide is changing. Bold champions in Congress—many of whom are on the Drafting Committee—made history in 2019 by introducing the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act, known as the EACH Woman Act, in both the House and the Senate. This bold legislation would reverse the Hyde amendment and related abortion coverage restrictions. This legislation would make a real difference in the lives of people who have abortions every day.
Not only does this legislation now have almost 200 cosponsors in the House and 25 in the Senate, but it also has the support of the American people. Battleground polling released last fall shows that 69% of voters agree that someone enrolled in Medicaid should have all of their pregnancy-related health care covered by their insurance, including abortion services. It also shows that the proportion of voters who strongly favor Medicaid coverage of abortion services has increased 7 points since 2017, from 31% to 38% nationally.
Notably, in 2016, the Democratic Party Platform included a call to end the Hyde Amendment for the first time. In the 2020 Democratic Primary, almost all of the Presidential candidates publicly committed to being bold and ending Hyde. And yet, the FY21 Appropriations bills once again have the Hyde Amendment in them. It is imperative that the 2020 platform will make a commitment to ending all coverage bans, including the Hyde Amendment, whether through annual appropriations bills, authorizing bills, or new legislation aimed at coronavirus relief and healthcare reform.
Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for a healthcare system that works for all of us; economic justice including a living wage; and accessible telemedicine, including abortion care. We hope to see a commitment to the workers who are on the frontlines of this pandemic. The platform should also commit to expanding medication abortion access so that each of us can access abortion care no matter where we live.
Lastly, it is especially important that this year’s platform centers Black, Indigenous, and women of color as the most impacted communities by restrictions on abortion access, the health and economic impacts of the pandemic, state violence, and white supremacy. When we support access to the full range of reproductive health care, including birth control, maternity care, and abortion care, we start to put a dent in systemic racism. Our needs and voices must be centered in this platform.
We are reimagining a post-pandemic world where each of us has access to the care we need, including abortion care; makes a living wage; and lives free from violence. We hope the 2020 platform affirms a bold vision for a more just world and addresses the needs of people who have abortions in this country.
1 New polling shows that a significant majority of the American electorate supports Medicaid coverage of abortion services; support in battleground congressional districts is even stronger.