September 30 marks the 40th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, a policy that blocks federal Medicaid coverage for abortion services unless a woman’s life is in danger, or in cases of rape and incest.
Reproductive rights advocates have been loud and clear on the many ways that Hyde ― a policy rider that has been tacked onto annual appropriations bills since the 1970s ― harms low-income women. Some 30 percent of black women and nearly a quarter of Latina women in the United States are enrolled in Medicaid. And although many states have extended coverage for abortion services to low-income women, more than half of Latinas and 70 percent of black women live in a state that does not allow Medicaid coverage for abortion. Many low-income women are forced to miss rent payments, forgo food and miss bill payments just to scrape together the money to cover care they have a legal right to.
To demonstrate how much Hyde hurts women, HuffPost Women spoke to Mary, a 26-year-old who has shared her story with the 1 in 3 Campaign. She was uninsured when she had her abortion three years ago, but qualified for financial assistance for her abortion from her state. That government help was the only thing, she says, that allowed her to be able to afford the service. Her story shows exactly how hard it is for many low-income women to pay for abortion services, and how overturning Hyde and expanding coverage would ease their burden.
Here is her story.
In April 2013, I was 23 and in a very crappy long-distance relationship that I now realize was emotionally abusive. I had been on and off the pill for a while. I’d go stretches without refilling my prescription, partly because my boyfriend and I were only seeing each other once every three or four months. He came for a visit and I’d recently gone back on the pill. I thought it would be effective, but I’d only been taking it for about a week. I guess I was wrong, because I got pregnant.
At the time, I was a student at my local community college and I was working 40 hours a week. I was earning minimum wage ― $7.25 an hour ― in a tuxedo rental shop in my local mall, cleaning tuxedos. It was very mundane work. To pay for school, I was getting financial aid and I took out student loans. I live in Asheville, North Carolina, which is expensive, so sometimes I’d use my student loans to pay my rent and prevent eviction ― even though I was living with roommates in a not nice place to keep costs down. I’d use the money I earned from work to pay for my groceries. I had a cat I’ve owned since I was 9 and I paid for him. I didn’t have a lot of other expenses. I don’t own a car. I was paying for the monthly bus pass.
“I know what it's like to grow up on welfare, and I know what it's like to be that kid at school whose clothes are torn up and dirty.”
Because I’ve been on and off birth control, my period has always been irregular. I’ve had some pregnancy scares in the past, but had never actually been pregnant before so I think maybe I got lulled into a false sense of security. I took a test in the bathroom stall at the mall before work, which was really stupid. There I was, shaking and crying. I called my boyfriend and the first thing I said, while sobbing, was “Don’t be mad at me.” That’s a good sign it was a terrible relationship.
It sounds callous, but I knew really quickly what I wanted to do. I love kids. In the future, I really want children. But I grew up financially disadvantaged. My family had been on welfare. Partly, I knew I couldn’t have the baby because I knew how bad my situation was with my boyfriend, but mostly it was financial. I know what it’s like to grow up on welfare, and I know what it’s like to be that kid at school whose clothes are torn up and dirty, or who is really hungry and doesn’t have anything for dinner aside from, like, a peanut butter sandwich. I couldn’t justify making a child go through that.
I did some research and went to my local Planned Parenthood clinic. They told me I was seven weeks along, but when they did an ultrasound, they said it looked more like I was four weeks. I am, unfortunately, a smoker. Before I knew I was pregnant, I’d been smoking the whole time. I asked them, “Is it my fault that it looks like I’m only four weeks?” and they told me they couldn’t say, they weren’t sure. They did say that if I chose to take it to term, they weren’t sure how it would turn out, they really didn’t know.
When I made the appointment for the abortion, the woman told me that based on my income I would be eligible for financial aid for part of the cost. I was uninsured at the time. I eventually convinced my boyfriend to pay $200 of what we owed beyond that, which was a terrible ordeal of many drawn out arguments about why I needed help with this. I think I paid about $50, maybe $70 myself.
On the day of the abortion, I took a day off work and missed some classes. My best friend from college came with me, and of course there were protestors outside. One of them chanted “young mother” at me, which is stuck in my head forever. I didn’t look at them or talk to them.
I was terrified the entire time. I have this paranoia of painkillers, so they gave me a nose mask with something ― I think basically laughing gas ― to help keep me calm. There was a doula-type woman there to hold my hand, and they kept telling me to breathe in, but I guess I wasn’t really inhaling enough, because I certainly felt cramping and pain. Once the procedure was over, the doctor told me to put my arm down. I realized I’d been crushing this poor woman’s hand, and I had to let her go. I’m not sure if it was the laughing gas, or me just being a crazy person, but in the waiting room after I was being loud and crying. They came and told me that I just really needed to calm down, because women in the waiting room could hear me.
“Now, I have a good job. I have a nice home. I'm in a stable relationship.”
That night, I stayed at the house of a friend from college, crying and having angry fights with my boyfriend and trying to get him to come and see me. For a while, I was a mess. I think the big thing for me was getting past my guilt. But I was never going to have this child. I would have felt awful watching my baby trying to survive on WIC checks, living in bad places, or maybe even being born with a defect of some kind because of what I’d done.
The thing is that now, I have a good job. I have a nice home. I’m in a stable relationship. I’m a volunteer with my local literacy counsel. And I think a lot about how all of those things would not have been possible if the state had not paid for part of the abortion. I really would have carried that pregnancy to term. My prospects, which were just blossoming, would have been completely ripped away.
This account has been edited and condensed.