The dark, insidious history of Hyde: Why lawmakers must question their acceptance of this archaic policy

As yet another year of Hyde passes, it is surreal to see anti-choice politicians still tirelessly working to take away the same rights over forty years later. Let’s be clear: the Hyde Amendment, and the effort by anti-choice Republicans in Congress to repeatedly reiterate and expand it, is a direct attack on our fundamental rights. While the Hyde Amendment is renewed every year without debate, its little-known history is steeped in relentless attacks on the reproductive rights of America’s most vulnerable women — particularly low income women and women of color.

The Hyde Amendment is an outdated relic of the 1970’s that never took women’s health into consideration. It’s completely out of step with modern American values, but still treated as an immovable feature of our political system. It’s time politicians truly understand the horrible history behind Hyde, and begin to take women’s health seriously.

“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.” — Henry Hyde

The dangerous Hyde amendment was first introduced in 1976, rising out of backlash against the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade. Anti-choice extremists desperately wanted to circumvent women’s newly granted constitutional right to an abortion, and used Hyde as a loophole to control women and deny reproductive freedom. The bill’s sponsor himself, Henry Hyde, proudly admitted his anti-choice agenda: “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.”

“A vote on this amendment is not a vote against abortion. It is a vote against poor people.” — Daniel J. Flood

Not only did anti-choice politicians want to undermine abortion rights, but they specifically wanted to target the most vulnerable women. While access to reproductive healthcare affects a woman’s ability to continue her education, rise up in her career, and plan for her future, these extremist politicians made their intentions clear: poor women should not be allowed to access abortion, and therefore, control their futures or their own destinies. Hyde himself said, “If rich women want to enjoy their high-priced vices, that is their responsibility.” After the Hyde Amendment first passed on September 30, 1976, anti-choice politician and eventual Hyde advocate Representative Daniel J. Flood said “A vote on this amendment is not a vote against abortion. It is a vote against poor people.”

In Hyde’s early days, out of touch extremists fought rigorously to pass the strongest, most dangerous version of the amendment possible, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or threats to the woman’s health. They wanted no consideration for the woman or her circumstances, with Hyde himself stating, “That trades a human life for a judgement call about the health of the woman. That is trading, if I may say, chickens for horses. The trade-off is hardly equal…” While protections for women’s health were finally added by the Senate, Hyde called it “a Christmas tree of exemptions and loopholes. It permits abortions for everything, including athlete’s foot.”

“We have no figures, we have no facts, we have no medical testimony; we did not hear a single witness on this grave matter of importance.”

The inception of the Hyde Amendment was dangerous, and even more so because women didn’t have a seat at the table when the law was passed. Their stories and health needs were largely absent from the debate. As Senator Warren G. Magnuson put it at the time, “We have no figures, we have no facts, we have no medical testimony; we did not hear a single witness on this grave matter of importance.”

Senator Orrin Hatch, who still serves in Congress today, compared women who seek abortion care to Nazis. He feared that “allowing Medicaid coverage of abortions could open the door to “genocidal programs as were practiced in Nazi Germany.”

In their vendetta against women, anti-choice politicians even went so far as to disregard women’s voices and stories. When Rosie Jimenez became the first woman to die because of Hyde after receiving an unsafe abortion since she didn’t have access to safe care on Medicaid, Hyde commented on her death by saying, “hysterical characterizations like that aren’t very helpful.” Senator Orrin Hatch, who still serves in Congress today, compared women who seek abortion care to Nazis. He feared that “allowing Medicaid coverage of abortions could open the door to “genocidal programs as were practiced in Nazi Germany.”

While these attacks on women were happening in Congress in 1977, we’re still fighting the same fight today. Far-right, anti-choice politicians determined to force their backwards ideology onto women and families have spent the past nine months trying to steal healthcare away from tens of millions of Americans. Their attempts at repealing the Affordable Care Act continuously attacked access to safe and affordable reproductive healthcare — including abortion access — making it clear that they never cared about women’s health and dignity, but rather pushing their own political agenda.

Even next week, out of touch politicians will continue pushing their anti-choice ideology by voting on an unconstitutional 20-week abortion ban in Congress. The Supreme Court made very clear in Roe v. Wade that bans before viability violate a woman’s right to privacy, but just as the anti-choice men of the 1970’s, today’s extremist politicians will stop at nothing to take away our rights.

Given Hyde’s background, the fight around reproductive rights has a long and a dark history. But we’re not giving up. So long as the anti-choice GOP continues to target women’s health and basic human rights, NARAL members will keep mobilizing and organizing against them. Seven in 10 Americans support keeping abortion legal and accessible, and that’s true in red states and blue states. We’re also proud to have champions of reproductive rights in elected offices, including the Democratic Senators that support Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All. When it comes to women’s health, his bill ends the debate and makes clear that access to reproductive healthcare, including abortion care, is a fundamental right — not just a privilege for the wealthy.

The fight against Hyde has spanned decades, with the very same values influencing and defining the debate around reproductive rights today. Anti-choice politicians have always used women’s lives and health as bargaining chips, and shamelessly continue to do so today. Just as we have always done, NARAL will continue to hold anti-choice politicians accountable because we have always known a simple truth: every woman deserves the human right to be in charge of her own body and future.

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NARAL Pro-Choice America is fighting for reproductive freedom for every body.

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NARAL

NARAL Pro-Choice America is fighting for reproductive freedom for every body.