by Molly “MK” Anderson

It’s been 39 years since the Hyde amendment was passed. When I think about the amendment, which prohibits Medicaid funds from covering abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or life-threatening pregnancies, I consider the myriad of ways reproductive choice is yanked out of reach for poor communities. In my home state of Georgia, Hyde is just one of several abortion restrictions that put a price tag on reproductive rights. Most recently, the Georgia assembly prohibited state employee insurance and Affordable Care Act plans from covering abortion.

But Georgia is not alone. Other southern states have been swept by state-wide policies that limit abortion access, and the region’s economic and racial disparities present additional barriers. Combined with the Hyde amendment, southern states like Georgia can be hostile places for low-income people, especially poor people of color, attempting to exercise reproductive choice. It is important to consider this context to fully understand why Hyde is so detrimental to the south.

There is no doubt that the Hyde amendment impacts low-income people. Women insured by Medicaid often have to pay for their abortion out-of-pocket, with costs averaging to around $450 but potentially costing more, depending on when termination occurs. Needing $450 could mean using a month’s rent or even taking on debt to pay for the procedure. It could also mean having to delay termination until funds are secure, something that could force a person to terminate later on, thereby increasing the cost of the procedure. And still, having to absorb the cost of an abortion in addition to taking on the indirect expenses of seeking medical care, such as arranging child care and taking time off work, may be enough to deprive some of their ability to access the service completely.

Hyde’s implications fall disproportionately on the shoulders of those living at the intersections of multiple oppressions. Nationally, poverty rates for Black, Hispanic, and Native American women are significantly higher than for white women. Additionally, Black and Latina women are also more likely to rely on Medicaid for family planning services. With women of color facing disproportionate rates of poverty, a policy that directly affects public funding for abortion is sure to impact women of color more than other groups. Put more simply, the Hyde amendment makes reproductive choice a commodity reserved for those who have the ability to pay, and those who cannot pay are often low-income women of color.

For the south, a law that affects poor people of color so pointedly has severe implications. The south has a higher poverty rate as compared to other regions, and poverty is even worse for Black and Latina women in many states. Georgia is no exception to the racialized poverty trend – the respective rates of low-income Black and Latino people is more than double that for white people. Because there are such glaring racial disparities in the south, Hyde is particularly harmful to southern communities of color.

It is also important to consider the Hyde amendment in conjunction with the south’s increasingly hostile political landscape. In many southern states, there are a menagerie of laws that, when combined with the Hyde amendment, make it difficult and even impossible for poor communities to exercise to reproductive rights. For example, many southern states have mandated in-person abortion counseling as well as a waiting period between scheduling an appointment and getting a procedure. In states such as Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas, patients must then visit the clinic two times: once for in-person counseling and once more for the procedure itself.

For poor people who must cover the cost of abortion, needing to attend two clinic visits has significant implications. Specifically, patients may have to make allowances not just for an abortion care visit, but for two roundtrips to the clinic, two days of child care, and perhaps even two days of missed work. For some, those costs are just too high.

Understanding the south’s context is key to developing a nuanced plan of what needs to be done to ensure that southern folks can create the families they want. It is clear to me that along with repealing Hyde, we must also commit to repealing laws that further restrict access to abortion care in our home states.

That’s why, on the 39th anniversary of the Hyde amendment, I keep in mind that there is work to be done on federal and state levels. As I rally to repeal Hyde, I will also rally against toxic state-wide laws that leave reproductive justice further out of reach for communities of color in my home state of Georgia.

And as I stand with national campaigns to do away with Hyde, I will also uplift local Georgia organizations, like SisterSong, SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW, and my own organization The Feminist Women’s Health Center, who are doing advocacy work on many levels. I am excited to see these organizations and others form powerful coalitions such as Thriving Families Georgia, which is devoted to advocating for policies that help Georgia families thrive, including ensuring access to safe and affordable abortion care. I am also thrilled to work with these organizations to end national policies that disproportionately harm low-income communities of color.

The current state or reproductive justice in the south is dire, and the Hyde amendment is a significant piece of that puzzle. But communities in the south are resilient. And more importantly, we’re building power in our own backyards.