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Women of Color Leaders Call for a Change: End Barriers to Abortion Care

More people of color have health insurance under the ACA, but barriers to women’s health remain.

"It's time for us to focus on the barriers to health care that have a profound and harmful impact on women of color, and take action." (Photo: American Life League)

According to recent surveys done by the US Department of Health and Human Services, 16.4 million Americans have been added to the health insurance rolls since last year. This is important and vital progress, but while the uninsured rate is dropping, some very significant disparities still exist.

Each April, National Minority Health Month provides an opportunity to shed light on women’s health issues and promote a deeper understanding of the systemic obstacles that prevent women of color from living our healthiest lives. It’s time for us to focus on the barriers to health care that have a profound and harmful impact on women of color, and take action.

As women of color, we face well-documented gaps in access to quality health care, higher rates of breast and cervical cancer, unintended pregnancy and disproportionate rates of death related to pregnancy complications. Sadly, these issues are often overlooked in public discourse. We’re calling for a change.

We represent millions of women in the United States who face serious, sometimes insurmountable challenges in getting the care we need, and who suffer as a result. In our work, we drive needed conversations about the intersecting socioeconomic and structural barriers that block access to affordable health-care services and comprehensive sexuality education for women of color, which lead to adverse reproductive health outcomes and persistent gaps between the health of Black, Latina and subpopulations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women, and White women.

While the Affordable Care Act is a promising start toward broadening access to preventive care, testing and treatment for our communities, we are intent on keeping those who will continue to struggle to access another critical reproductive health service – abortion care – front and center.

Since the introduction and annual renewal of the Hyde Amendment in 1976, Congress has withheld coverage for abortion services from low-income women insured through the Medicaid program. Because women of color are disproportionately affected by social and economic inequality – 24 percent of Latino/as, 27 percent of Black women and 18 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders live below the poverty line – the Hyde Amendment, at its core, targets women of color’s ability to access affordable abortion care. This is unacceptable.

In its intent to limit the reproductive freedom of low-income women, the Hyde Amendment has been heartbreakingly successful. Each year, tens of thousands of people are denied access to affordable abortion care because this coverage is withheld. In fact, studies show that when policy makers place restrictions on Medicaid coverage of abortion, it forces one in four low-income women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.

The impact of not being able to afford an abortion is real: A woman who seeks an abortion, but is denied, is three times more likely to fall into poverty than one who is able to get an abortion. In this way, we can start to quantify the Hyde Amendment’s contributions to persistent poverty in communities of color, with effects rippling out into our families and communities. For example, research from Harvard University and UC Berkeley shows that for residents in Atlanta, Milwaukee and Charlotte the odds of reaching the top 20 percent income level for those in the bottom 20 percent is one in 25.

We’ve watched in frustration, year after year, as Congress continues this interference with women’s health, and we’ve watched women in our communities suffer for it. It’s the worst kind of governance, playing politics with something as important as a woman’s personal decision about whether to end a pregnancy. To make an informed decision, one best for her circumstances, a woman needs to be able to access and afford health care.

This is why we’ve been working tirelessly for decades to overturn this restriction and are now at the forefront of a bold new campaign to bring our communities together and call for abortion coverage to be restored. This campaign, All* Above All, is backed by a strong, diverse coalition empowering a new generation to stand up, be brave and take action. It recognizes our communities’ commitment to restoring abortion coverage – that we are all in this together, and it underscores the values we hold as we do our work – justice, equality, inclusivity and a recognition of how these harmful policies perpetuate racial and economic injustice.

For a woman struggling to make ends meet, being able to make her own reproductive decisions is a step toward economic and social self-determination. This month, join us as we raise awareness of all that’s needed to achieve health equity, including the ability to access safe and affordable abortion care for all.

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