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Women Are Already Being Punished for Having Abortions

Janine Jackson interviewed Destiny Lopez about abortion rights under Donald Trump.

The signs of abortion rights demonstrators outside the US Supreme Court's decision on abortion, outside the court in Washington, DC, on June 27, 2016. (Photo: Al Drago / The New York Times)

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Janine Jackson: Women’s reproductive rights, never universally comfortably secure, are in clear and present danger under a Trump administration. But much media coverage of abortion has been marked by a static pro/con framing that presents it as, above all, a political football, rather than a question of women’s fundamental human rights. As Trump-emboldened lawmakers push forward more “heartbeat bills” and waiting-period restrictions, we have to ask if media will rise to the challenge, including acknowledging that, as it stands, all women are not equal when it comes to the ability to make critical reproductive choices.

Destiny Lopez is co-director of All Above All, a coalition of groups and individuals working to lift the bans that deny abortion coverage. She joins us now by phone from North Carolina. Welcome to CounterSpin, Destiny Lopez.

Destiny Lopez: Thanks so much for having me.

Donald Trump has said he’ll defund Planned Parenthood, he’ll put anti-choice justices on the Supreme Court, he’ll sign a 20-week abortion ban. We know that harassment at clinics is already up. There’s a lot to fear and to think about here. But as with other issues, I think I hear folks saying, let’s start with the most vulnerable. When it comes to abortion access, who does that mean?

So I think that means the constituencies that my campaign really focuses on and cares about: women of color and young folks. They are the ones who are disproportionately impacted by any bans on abortion, restrictions of abortion. Any attempts to undercut abortion access in this country ultimately are going to disproportionately impact those groups of women.

Yeah, it seems important to recognize that the rights that we’re saying are in jeopardy, some women effectively don’t really have them now. I think the Hyde Amendment, people think of as ancient history. It’s very much with us, isn’t it?

It is very much with us, and it’s been with us for the last 40 years, so we just marked the 40th year of the Hyde Amendment. And really, Trump and Pence and now the anti-abortion leadership in Congress, since they have both houses, want to make it harder to prevent unintended pregnancy and ultimately impossible to get abortion, but they penalize women for having children as well. And so we don’t have to imagine what it looks like when they push it out of reach because, frankly, they already do this with Hyde.

As you said, it bans insurance coverage for abortion for women enrolled in Medicaid, and, again, those are brown and black folks, tend to be younger folks as well.

Hyde was clear that he wanted to ban all abortion, but this was just the part that he had control over. And you just mentioned it, but maybe just spell out who is affected by Hyde.

Sure, sure. So if you think about who is part of the Medicaid program, obviously that’s a broad swath of Americans, but disproportionately those are women of color, black women in particular, as well as Latina women, as well as young folks are also still part of that program. But now what we’ve seen also, since Hyde was originally enshrined into law 40 years ago, all of these kind of copycat amendments have been added. So now if you’re in the Peace Corps or if you get your care through the Indian Health Service, if you’re a federal employee, if you are in a federal detention center, including immigrants who are in federal detention centers, all of those groups of folks also have the same restriction. So all of them are not allowed to use federal funds to access abortion care, unless it’s in the cases of health of the mother, rape or incest.

So it went from a very small group of folks to a much larger group of folks. And we see that that punishment of women, that Trump said over and over in the campaign that he wanted to punish women, is already happening with Hyde.

The fact that these restrictions fall heaviest on low-income women is not surprising, in a way, but it’s not really the only way that economics and abortion are related. The ability to determine whether or not to have a child can mean the difference between falling below the poverty line or not. It seems clear, but the economic impact of abortion rights, it seems to me, is rarely explored, at least in the media.

That’s right. And what we know is, particularly when it comes to the Hyde Amendment, that pushing abortion coverage out of reach of women forces one in four poor women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. So you have to imagine what that looks like for a woman in her real life. She likely has other children already, she might want to pursue a career or education, and that becomes further and further out of reach for women. And those are all bread-and-butter economic issues from a woman’s point of view. And I think you’re right, we don’t talk about that enough. And part of the work that we do at All Above All is really to make those connections.

You know, we fundamentally believe that regardless of how a woman gets her insurance, how much money she makes, or where she lives, that she should have access to the same reproductive healthcare, including abortion, as any other woman. And so if you think about the patchwork we’ve now created: Federal funding is prohibited; there are a number of states that provide Medicaid funding through their own state funds, but that’s 17 states out of our 50 states. So in those other 30+ states, women don’t have access to Medicaid coverage. So we’ve created this kind of uneven pattern of access throughout the country, which you also see in terms of the number of abortion providers women have, the number of restrictions that women have, depending on the state that they live in. So it’s just this patchwork that really ultimately comes down to how much money you make and where you live, whether you’re actually going to get the care that is rightfully ours.

Which, needless to say, is not the way you manage something that is genuinely seen as a right, that is seen as a human right, that access.

Absolutely. Absolutely.

I remember reading Brenda Wright, from the group Demos, talking about this, and pointing out that something like seven in ten women who had abortions were saying they would have had them earlier, but their delay was due to a lack of funds — connecting, in other words, women’s autonomy and economic security with, you know, we’re supposedly interested in working families. Well, this is a core issue for a working family, for their economic lives.

Absolutely. In a prior part of my career, I worked with an abortion fund, and we were providing daily, to women who were seeking abortion care, money for their procedure, or a tank of gas so they could get to that procedure, a place to stay for an overnight procedure. All this scraping that women have to do to get together the money and the support that she needs, logistical and otherwise, to actually just get to access healthcare, again, that’s considered a right.

I don’t think we talk enough about that process either, what it takes for a woman, both the decision-making she goes through to make that decision, and then once she’s made her decision, the kind of hoops she has to go through — and a lot of them are financial — in order to actually access care.

One of the shocking, to many, election results is that 52 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump. And I just read that reproductive rights groups had a strategy meeting recently and determined that women of color should take the lead in that fight. I wonder what you think about that, what’s the thinking behind that recentering. It seems to me a positive development.

Yeah, I had the privilege of being at that meeting. The one thing I’ll say is — and I’m a Latina, so I identify as a woman of color — we have been leading, particularly on the issue of the Hyde Amendment, we have been at the forefront of this movement to repeal the Hyde Amendment for many, many years, but really a resurgence in that effort, since All Above All came onto the scene about five or six years ago.

So I think if we look at who was under attack during this election cycle, it was undocumented folks, black women, men and children, Muslim Americans, low-income people, and people of color more generally, those were the folks who were under attack, who Trump said vicious things about.

Those are also the people who showed up at the polls, right? You know, we can look at the numbers of who didn’t show up, but if we look at who showed up, the amazing number of black women who showed up, Latinos broke for Hillary, young folks broke for Hillary. When we look at those folks, they’re there with us, and we need to continue to engage those constituencies, engage our communities in dialogue about these issues, because they’re also part of the new American majority, so their numbers are going to be increasing as voters, and we must be responsive to their concerns.

And what that also means, then, is we can’t just be talking about abortion access or reproductive rights in a silo. We have to come at this through a justice framework, which means we have to stand with folks fighting for racial justice, for fair wages, for tribal sovereignty. We have to center the voices and leadership of women of color in all of those conversations, and we have to do this work in an intersectional way.

So maybe, as on other fronts, it’s really an acknowledgement of the leadership that’s been going on all this time, in any event.


Finally, it’s not that journalists don’t talk about abortion or don’t talk about reproductive rights, they do. But I just wonder, how could media support and highlight the work that’s being done? What would you like to see?

I do think one of the things we see oftentimes is a lot of assumptions, particularly around the beliefs and values of folks of color around these issues. So there’s a myth that, for example, Latinos are Catholic, and therefore they’re anti-choice. And we have amazing research, from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, that says in fact they’re with us on this issue, you just have to talk to them in a different way about it, right?

So I think there’s a lot of mythology around how black and brown folks in particular feel about these issues. We know from our work on the Hyde Amendment that majorities of African-Americans, Latinos, API communities actually support our work to ensure that every woman has access, regardless of how much money she makes or where she lives.

I think the media can help us bust some of this mythology. I think they can lift up voices from communities of color as their spokespeople on these issues, because they’re going to help you both talk about reproductive rights and justice issues, but also make those linkages to Black Lives Matter, to the immigration rights fight.

If we’ve learned nothing else from this cycle, it’s that as progressives, we really need to come from a values-based approach, and we really need to be doing work across progressive issues. And I think, at least in our movement, women of color leadership has been doing that for a long, long time. And so to me, having the media shine a spotlight on that leadership and how we lead is going to be really important.

We’ve been speaking with Destiny Lopez, co-director of All Above All. You can find them and their work online at Destiny Lopez, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

Thanks so much for having me.

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