Why I DCAF: Hyde Edition

affordableabortionThis week marks the 40th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, which bars Medicaid recipients from using their benefits to pay for abortion care in many states. Our volunteers are sharing the stories of why our work is vital in the face of these restrictions. Today, case manager Lauren W. shares what she sees on our helpline.

Abortions are expensive. Really, really expensive — in my time as a DC Abortion Fund volunteer, I have worked with patients whose procedures will cost anywhere from $300 to $18,000. Even the lowest-cost procedures at the earliest stages of pregnancy can pose an insurmountable burden for people with no incomes, people with other high-cost medical needs, and people who live paycheck-to-paycheck.

Now, most medical care is expensive. That’s why most people have or try to have health insurance, which is supposed to help cover the high cost of care so that people can stay healthy. For people who can’t afford health insurance, we have Medicaid, which has serious flaws but still provides an important safety net for people in difficult financial situations. Medicaid should be health insurance that people can rely on for their basic medical needs, including abortions. Thanks to Henry Hyde and other anti-choice politicians, however, they can’t.

Rep. Hyde created what it is now known as the Hyde Amendment, an unjust policy that has been in place for the past 40 years. This federal budget rider, and others like it, prevents Medicaid, CHIP, and Medicare enrollees; federal employees and their families; Peace Corps volunteers; members of the military and their families; users of the Indian Health Service; DC residents; and people held in federal jails, prisons, and immigration detention facilities from using their health insurance for abortion care.

When I learned about these unjust policies, I was angry. I wanted to stand in solidarity with people in the DC area, the community I love and call home, who could get the abortion care they needed if only their health insurance would cover it. That’s why I became a case manager for the DC Abortion Fund.

When I take my helpline shifts, I hear from my patients that they are frustrated and worried that they won’t be able to pull together the money they need to cover their abortion while still providing for their children, their family members, and their own basic needs, like food and housing. Recently, I worked with a patient who apologized to me for spending $15 on food for her children, and was short of the goal she had set for herself. She isn’t the one who should be apologizing — the members of Congress who support the Hyde Amendment every year are the ones in the wrong. If the Hyde Amendment weren’t in play, this mother could get the care she needed and provide adequate food for her young children. Instead, she’s forced to scrimp on food and spend many hours on the phone working to get the money together to pay for her abortion so she can end a pregnancy that isn’t right for her or her family.

No one should ever be forced to choose between the medical care they need and feeding their kids. That’s why I am a proud DCAF volunteer and why I support an end to the Hyde Amendment.

By volunteer Lauren W. Image via Repeal Hyde Art Project.

How Bans Affect Patients with Disabilities

disability_justice_repealhydeThis week marks the 40th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, which bars Medicaid recipients from using their benefits to pay for abortion care in many states. Our volunteers are sharing the stories of why our work is vital in the face of these restrictions. Today, case manager Meredith N. talks about how laws restricting abortion access disproportionately affect people with disabilities.

It’s that time of year where we wish the Hyde Amendment a happy unbirthday and continue to fight the good fight to end the ban(s) on abortion coverage. However, it is discouraging to see so many reproductive justice activists neglect to mention that people with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by the Hyde Amendment as well. The reality is that people with disabilities are more likely to be poor as well as rely on state insurance programs such as Medicaid and Medicare to meet our health care needs. I currently live in Maryland which both expanded Medicaid and is one of the 15 states where Medicaid covers abortion care.  Unfortunately, the lack of transparency surrounding how to access this benefit means that few are aware it does not apply to the Aged, Blind or Disabled Medicaid that SSI beneficiaries receive (perhaps because there is the false assumption we do not need it). In turn, repealing Hyde is a disability justice issue as well. At the same time, a world without Hyde means little as long as our society continues to look upon disabled sexuality with fear and disgust. A world with reproductive justice would affirm the diversity of body/minds in the world by recognizing that we, too, deserve full spectrum reproductive health care.

As a result, I DCAF because disabled people need abortion access, too. Neglecting to consider this hurts multiply marginalized disabled people the most. I DCAF because the seemingly insurmountable financial barriers to an abortion are compounded when you are turned away from clinics because you are considered a high risk patient, your accessibility needs cannot be met, or you must go without lifesaving medication in order to come up with gas money. I DCAF because too many people with disabilities remain isolated by an ableist world and I want to be a lifeline whom anyone facing an unplanned pregnancy can call when they have no one else to turn to. I DCAF because everyone deserves access to safe, accessible abortion care regardless of how much cash they have, regardless of whether or not society believes they “should be” having sex or not, regardless of whether or not they are “productive” enough, and whether or not their necessary accommodations are “reasonable” enough.

Nonetheless, abortion funds and other reproductive justice groups shouldn’t wait until Hyde is repealed to commit to this anti-ableism work! As someone who has funded abortions both locally and nationally, it is all too apparent that abortion funds are working with many disabled callers — regardless of whether or not these callers identify as such — but are poorly equipped to recognize our needs, much less accommodate them. I encourage you to consider how you can better incorporate dis/ability into your intersectional frameworks: whether that’s eliminating ableist language such as “crazy” or “lame” from your fund’s vocabulary or taking more extensive steps of disability solidarity.

By volunteer Meredith N. Image by Repeal Hyde Art Project.

How Hyde Affects our Patients

Via Repeal Hyde Art ProjectThis week marks the 40th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, which bars Medicaid recipients from using their benefits to pay for abortion care in many states. Our volunteers are sharing the stories of why our work is vital in the face of these restrictions. Today, case manager Olivia C. shares what she sees on the help line.

When I ask a DC Abortion Fund patient if they have health insurance, I hold my breath. If the patient tells me they have Medicaid, I should be relieved. More often than not, however, I have to talk to my patients about how a program that’s supposed to provide healthcare won’t in this instance. Because of the Hyde Amendment, a sweeping federal restriction on funding for abortion, most of our patients on Medicaid can’t use it to pay for their abortion, leaving them to scramble for funds.

For almost 40 years, Hyde has made true reproductive choice a theory rather than a reality. Hyde bans the use of federal money for abortion except in the most limited circumstances: life endangerment, rape, and incest. A handful of states — 15, to be exact —  use their own funds to provide abortion to people enrolled in Medicaid, but 33 states don’t, and the District of Columbia can’tleaving 60 percent of women enrolled in Medicaid without abortion coverage. The patchwork of funding make abortion access a privilege based not just on income, but on ZIP code.

We see this play out every day at the DC Abortion Fund. Our Medicaid-enrolled patients in Maryland have abortion coverage up to 22 weeks of pregnancy, at least if they’re on the state’s primary Medicaid program (Maryland’s Children’s Health Insurance Program and family planning program don’t offer abortion coverage). Patients with Medicaid calling us from the District of Columbia, Virginia, and other states aren’t as lucky, nor are our patients who are federal employees or military service members or veterans who have insurance provided by the federal government.

Hyde hits the people who are most in need. Poor and low-income women are the most likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy and want an abortion. Because of social and economic inequality linked to racism and discrimination, Hyde disproportionately affects women of color (30 percent of black women and 24 percent of Hispanic women are enrolled in Medicaid), youth, immigrants, and transgender or gender non-conforming individuals, and people with disabilities. The result is that a program intended to promote equality in health care access perpetuates inequality instead.

At the DC Abortion Fund, we work with patients who experience this inequality first-hand. The average cost of an abortion can be more than one-third of a patient’s monthly income, and even more as a patient gets further into pregnancy. Without much money to spare, our patients may find themselves needing to divert funds from food, rent, and utilities to pay for their abortion. They might find themselves in a vicious cycle of fundraising, being unable to hit their target, and having to reschedule for a later, more costly appointment. While the DC Abortion Fund and our partners often can meet the need of our patients, there are other people for whom abortion is still financially out of reach, forcing them to carry an often unplanned, and often unwanted, pregnancy to term.

The DC Abortion Fund and our fellow funds exist to help patients fill the gap left by Hyde, but we can’t do it without our volunteers and donors. Moreover, we can’t meet the needs of every patient nationwide affected by abortion coverage restrictions. We need abortion coverage that doesn’t discriminate on wealth and address.

It’s high time to repeal Hyde. Advocates across the country are banding together to call on Congress and our next president to end restrictions on abortion funding. Join the DC Abortion Fund and send us a selfie telling us why you stand up against Hyde. Write to your Congressperson asking them to support the EACH Woman Act, which mandates abortion coverage in insurance. And on Sept. 30, the 40th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, be bold and shout your support for abortion access. It’s time for us to restore decision making to the people who need abortion and make choice a reality.

By volunteer Olivia C. Image by Repeal Hyde Art Project.


repealhydeThis week marks the 40th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, which bars Medicaid recipients from using their benefits to pay for abortion care in many states, including DC. Our volunteers are sharing the stories of why our work is vital in the face of these restrictions. Today, case manager Harum H. shares what she sees on the help line.

When you volunteer as a case manager with the DC Abortion Fund, you get the privilege of having a pretty good look at how the Hyde Amendment strips so many people of their rights to dignified health care.

The people who call DCAF for help paying for their abortion often do so because they have exhausted their other options. They’ve asked for help from their friends, they’ve asked their parents, they’ve pawned their microwaves, they’re picking up extra shifts at work. They fundraise and fundraise and fundraise, but because abortion can cost between $300 and $950 even in the first trimester, sometimes what they’ve fundraised is just not enough. And sometimes they can’t ask anyone because their friends and family are anti-choice. Sometimes they can’t ask anyone because they’re in an abusive relationship. Sometimes they just don’t want to tell anyone they know.

So they call DCAF, and we talk to them on the phone, and they tell us private information about their lives and pregnancies so we can determine how we can help them. Sometimes the abortion costs so much (the price of care goes up exponentially after the first trimester, easily reaching five figures as the pregnancy progresses into the second and third trimester) that DCAF and a combination of other funds can’t help cover the entire funding gap, and the client has to go back to the drawing board and fundraise some more. Ask more people. Pawn more things. Buy a little less food for their families.

Here’s the thing: So many of these people who seek abortion care don’t have to go through all that. If the Hyde Amendment weren’t in place, Medicaid would be able to cover their abortion. Poor people, who are also overwhelmingly people of color, who have never been allowed a seat on the table congressional debates concerning their lives, who should be able to make their own dignified decisions about their health care, are the collateral in the ugly game anti-choice lawmakers play. As U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde himself told his colleagues during a congressional debate in 1977, “I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the…Medicaid bill.”

Forty years of having the Hyde Amendment in place is 40 years too long. This shameful amendment needs to end now.

By volunteer Harum H. Image courtesy Repeal Hyde Art Project.

DCAF Featured Online — Hyde Week edition

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, which bars Medicaid recipients from using their benefits to pay for abortion care in many states, including DC. We’re sharing the stories of why our work is vital in the face of these restrictions — and other people are, too.

DCAF board treasurer Emily gave an interview about DCAF’s work in the face of District abortion access restrictions this week in DCist.

DCAF volunteer Maggie G. wrote about the financial lessons she learned on the DCAF helpline today at The Financial Diet. Check ’em both out!

In “The Singing Abortionist,” a Complicated Hero Emerges

By Carolyn B.

DCAF recently sponsored a screening of “The Singing Abortionist,” shown as part of the Washington Jewish Film Festival. Volunteer Carolyn attended, and shares her thoughts on the film.

I recently joined fellow reproductive rights activists, film buffs, members of the DC Jewish community, and a handful of anti-choice viewers at the Edlavitch DCJCC for a screening of “The Singing Abortionist.” I found myself somewhat unexpectedly paying rapt attention to what was unfolding on screen. Director Dara Bratt and producer Umber Hamid’s thought-provoking portrayal of Canadian abortion provider and Holocaust survivor Dr. Henry Morgentaler is  sympathetic one, but also complex and challenging. It does not glamorize his life, nor does it shy away from examining where and how he fell short.

Because of Dr. Morgentaler’s experience as a victim of grossly unjust laws, he felt compelled to first speak out against abortion restrictions and then, when women began to approach him for help, set up illegal clinics and perform the procedures himself. In doing so, he became a target for radical anti-choice forces. Some of the most jarring segments of the film show just exactly what this meant: a survivor of Auschwitz facing screams of “Nazi!” and “Hitler!” and crude cartoons depicting him with an exaggerated hump nose and large teeth while standing in front of smokestacks billowing dark clouds. The shadow the Holocaust cast over Morgentaler’s life and work is emphasized by filmmakers several times throughout the film.

This pro-choice Christian of Jewish ancestry was both disturbed and challenged by the inclusion of these photos and clips — it reminded me of when a protester raised his arm in a Nazi salute in the direction of my clinic escorting partner (an older Israeli man) and myself. While the filmmakers do not delve into the historical and institutional Christian church’s involvement with anti-choice harassment and perpetration of anti-Semitism, being confronted with such stark imagery soon after formally joining a faith community has forced me to examine how Christian anti-Semitism and certain strains of the anti-choice movement may be intertwined.

Examining the Holocaust’s effect on Morgentaler’s work led to a discussion of destiny in the film and during the Q&A following the screening. Morgentaler reflects on how he sees himself as a rebel at heart; because of his profession, the political atmosphere, and the fact that he just happened to make a public statement about Canadian abortion law during this time, he ended up being a leader in the Canadian pro-choice movement.

While it did not occur on the same kind of stage, this caused me to reflect on my own involvement in this cause. The first time I found myself internally identifying as pro-choice, it did not feel revolutionary or bold — it seemed like common sense. Who knew that talking about Roe v. Wade and the passing of Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun in my fifth-grade class would lead to a decade and a half (so far) of working to make comprehensive reproductive healthcare a reality for all, during a time when it would face so many attacks?

The filmmakers could have easily focused on Morgentaler’s legal activism and medical provision and it would have still been an interesting documentary, albeit less compelling. To their credit, they also examine more challenging aspects of his personality and work. Three of his now-adult children speak frankly about the effects the death threats, clinic vandalism and bombings, and harassment had on them as children — and about how he was  a loving but distant father who frequently left the more challenging parts of parenting to his female partners. His wives and female colleagues discuss how Morgentaler was charming, kind, and genuinely interested in who they were and what they had to say, but would ultimately become distracted by his “devot[ion] to doing things that will get [him] the love of women.” Sometimes this was his work providing abortion care, other times it was another romantic interest.

The decision to not shy away from this part of Morgentaler’s story is a pointed reminder to avoid hero worship. It also draws attention to the emotional labor women do in the context of the abortion rights and reproductive justice movements. Yes, Dr. Morgentaler did valuable, life-saving work at great risk to himself. This is no small thing, and all evidence points to his partners being fully aware of and supportive of this commitment prior to entering a relationship with him. But it does raise a difficult question: Exactly how much sacrifice, heartbreak, and work must women put into supporting a male leader of a movement that is ostensibly about our own liberation?

I don’t often write down notes or reflections after watching a movie, but on my Metro ride home from this screening, I was scribbling my reflections into a notebook. Director Dara Bratt mentioned that she is drawn to examining complex, multi-faceted characters in her work, and this film is no exception. Just like the man it portrays, “The Singing Abortionist” provides a variety of themes and perspectives from which thoughtful viewers can learn about and consider Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s work and legacy.

Crosspost: Our Heroes at Code for DC

codefordcDCAF has snazzy new patient intake software, thanks to the good people at Code for DC (and some intrepid DCAF volunteers as well). Learn all about how an all-volunteer team of more than 35 local programmers built this custom program from the ground up on Code for DC’s blog. We can’t say thank you enough!

You Don’t Want to Miss This: The Singing Abortionist

Singing Abortionist Dr. Henry Morgentaler

Holocaust survivor. Womanizer. Pro-choice crusader. Dr. Henry Morgentaler has been called the most loved — and hated — man in Canada. The documentary, “The Singing Abortionist” is an exploration of this man, who once performed an abortion, live on television, on Mother’s Day. And it’s screening at the Washington Jewish Film Festival.

Screening Details
Tuesday, September 13
Reception: 6:00 pm
Screening: 7:30 pm
at the Edlavitch DCJCC
1529 16th Street NW, Washington, DC
Get your tickets

Make sure to join us for a pre-screening networking reception at the 16th Street Lobby featuring happy hour drinks. The first drink is even free with your ticket — bonus!

We’ll be there along with our partners Planned Parenthood of Metro Washington, NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and the Women’s Information Network.

Stick around after the screening for a Q&A with filmmaker Dara Bratt.

You can RSVP on Facebook too. We hope to see you there!

The Singing Abortionist Trailer from darabratt on Vimeo.

photo credit: Flickr user rabbleradio

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