Make abortion safe, legal and funded

April 28, 2016

Emily Shaw reports on an anti-choice cyberattack on an important abortion fund--and makes the case that this shows the need for public funding for abortion.

THE NATIONAL Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) was forced to shut down its website after abortion opponents intent on denying access to women seeking abortions hacked the site on April 14.

The hackers flooded the website of the NNAF--the world's largest fundraising platform for abortions--with fake donations designed to make it crash. They also sent anti-choice e-mails to donors who contributed to the annual National Access to Abortion Bowl-a-Thon fundraising campaign.

Some e-mails included an image of a fetus and a baby side-by-side with the words, "I hope I grow up big enough to go bowling someday." Another e-mail included a "magical" link regarding a "breathtaking announcement" about where funds were to be distributed, which directed Bowl-a-Thon supporters to a Priests for Life web page.

The Bowl-a-Thon helps provide necessary funds to overcome barriers to reproductive health care in the U.S. But women seeking to end their pregnancies didn't always have to rely on private donations from charitable organizations in order to afford their procedures. Immediately following the Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion in 1973, the U.S. did have public funding of abortion, with federal funds used to cover the procedure under the Medicaid program.

Representatives of the National Network of Abortion Funds rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court
Representatives of the National Network of Abortion Funds rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court (NNAF)

In September 1976, Republican Rep. Henry Hyde won passage of an amendment he sponsored to a House appropriations bill to cease public funding of abortions with federal Medicaid dollars. A staunch anti-choicer, Hyde used his position to sneak his anti-abortion agenda into a bill that the president wouldn't veto.

In the years between the passage of Roe v. Wade and the implementation of the Hyde Amendment in 1980, Medicaid provided coverage for up to 300,000 abortions annually.

The Hyde Amendment was the first victory for the anti-choice movement since the legalization of abortion. Since then, the amendment has been altered several times, depending on the political climate in Congress and the state of reproductive justice activism. Other similar laws and amendments, styled after the Hyde Amendment, prevent federal funding for abortion for federal employees, women in the military and Peace Corps, disabled women, Native American women using Indian Health Services, and federal prisoners.

The amendment has also had farther-reaching implications, including its use by former Ohio Medical Board member Michael Gonidakis to ban transfer agreements from abortion clinics to publicly funded hospitals.

"I would certainly like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion: a rich woman, a middle-class woman or a poor woman," said Hyde. Hyde saw the restriction on Medicaid funding as the best vehicle to make sure that women in the last category would be denied federal funds to pay for abortion care.

IN THE words of Justice Thurgood Marshall in his dissenting opinion against the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the amendment in 1980: "The Hyde Amendment is designed to deprive poor and minority women of the constitutional right to choose abortion."

Seventeen states allow for state funding of abortion through Medicaid, but this doesn't meet the overwhelming need of women who must seek abortion care to end their pregnancies.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, over 40 percent of all women seeking abortions in 2015 were below the federal poverty line, and more than 60 percent had at least one child already. Medicaid covers one in 10 women nationally, with about 12.5 million women between the ages of 19 and 64.

The latest incarnation of Hyde only allows for public funding of abortions in cases such as rape, incest or threats to the mother's life, so most women who seek abortions must find a way to pay for their medical treatment themselves.

For other women who can't afford the procedure or are unable to find financial help, it means raising a child in poverty, which has become even more difficult as the last several decades have seen the further privatization of social services such as public schools, leading to inadequate education, and a lack of resources and opportunities for poor children.

Working-class mothers and families have also seen the systematic dismantling of the social safety net as food stamp benefits are reduced and so-called "welfare reform" is enforced.

Abortion funds have appeared across the country to fill the gap for poor women seeking abortion care. In Ohio, two abortion funds offer financial assistance to women based on need--Preterm, which is also a clinic that provides abortion and reproductive health care in Cleveland, and Women Have Options-Ohio, the statewide fund that provides grant money directly to clinics.

Both organizations are members of the NNAF, which boasts a roster of over 90 abortion funds across the country. NNAF provides resources and support to these abortion funds and helps to coordinate fundraising efforts, particularly during the spring, when it makes an annual push for donations for the National Abortion Access Bowl-a-Thon.

Supporters of local abortion funds sign up for teams or create their own, usually with clever, pun-filled names. The goal is to outraise teammates and other teams to fund as many abortions and reproductive health care services covered by the sponsoring abortion fund as possible. Everyone gets to bowl regardless of ability or skill, and some fundraisers get to walk away with some swag that reads, "Ask me about the abortion I bowled for."

Unfortunately, due to the cyber attack earlier this month, many funds were left uncertain about their final totals. Some abortion funds rely on Bowl-a-Thon for the bulk of their donations each year, such as the CAIR Project in the Pacific Northwest, which estimates that Bowl-a-Thon accounts for 40 percent of its annual budget.

The cyber attack may cause some abortion funds to pay for fewer abortions this year, if they are not able to make up for the donations lost due to the attack.

IN A political climate when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump can say that he would seek to punish women seeking abortions, the conversation continues to be pulled to the right.

Trump later had to backpedal on his statement, but punishment for abortion is already a reality for many working-class women.

Ask Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old Indiana woman who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for inducing her own abortion with circumstantial evidence that she caused a miscarriage, which was referred to as "feticide."

With the Supreme Court preparing to hear Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt this year, many are concerned that women are already being punished for seeking abortions, if not by the criminal injustice system then by the economic ramifications of seeking care. This includes expenses for transportation and lodging in order to have an abortion, as well as taking time off of work due to three-day waiting periods and other laws designed to restrict women's access to abortion.

Democrats have been far too willing to accept anti-choice proposals and amendments, despite their ostensible commitments to reproductive rights. The "progressive" health care reforms posed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have included compromises to abortion access.

Former House Speaker and pro-choice Democrat Nancy Pelosi agreed to compromises that would essentially apply the illogic of the Hyde Amendment to the state-run private insurance marketplaces set up by the ACA--forcing women to pay for abortion coverage or services out of pocket. The law permits states to ban exchange plans from covering abortion in most cases, except for the health of the mother.

For now, the Hyde Amendment remains the status quo, though many activists are striving to remove the rider from the Medicaid bill, including those involved with the Repeal Hyde Art Project.

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both taken aim at the Hyde Amendment earlier this year, though they disagree about restrictions on late-term abortions, with Sanders stating a clear "no" to any and all restrictions, while Clinton believes only in exceptions for the life of the mother.

Any restriction on a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion is an attack on a woman's autonomy. Politicians have stepped in to say that they know better than a woman or her doctor about what is best for her and her pregnancy.

These policies have a target: working-class women, especially working class women of color. These are also the women who bear the brunt of neoliberal "reforms" which privatize child care and education, and destroy the social safety net.

If they aren't already living in poverty, an unplanned pregnancy can thrust a mother and her children into it, leading to limited resources and opportunities. As socialists, it is our duty to raise the slogan "Free abortion on demand"--for anyone, at any time, for any reason--in order to end the stigma around abortion and public funding of the procedure.

Abortion funds do such great work that they have become a target of the anti-choice movement, but they are mostly small, volunteer organizations that can't meet the needs of women in this country. Public funding of abortion must become the new status quo, instead of the Hyde Amendment.

Further Reading

From the archives