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Black Women Activists Warn Democrats After Abortion Failure: 'Don't Count on Our Votes'

Reproductive rights advocates of color wrote a scathing letter to Congress after it failed to end a federal ban on abortion coverage.

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Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP (Getty Images)

For the time being, reproductive rights advocates’ long-time dream of ending the Hyde Amendment, a half-century-old budget rider that prohibits federal funding of most abortions, is dead in Congress, despite President Joe Biden’s campaign promise to get rid of it.

Since Hyde disproportionately affects pregnant people of color, and particularly Black and Indigenous people, Black reproductive justice advocates have responded to the failure with a resounding warning to Democratic members: “Defend Black women’s rights or don’t count on our votes.”

Marcela Howell, president of In Our Own Voice: The National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, criticized Congress on Thursday for being “willing to sacrifice the reproductive health and rights of Black women.” She pointed out that just earlier this month, Congress failed to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act to codify Roe v. Wade. “Black women expect that the politicians we voted for will represent our interests and our rights,” Howell said in the statement. “We must hold our elected leaders accountable and demand that our rights are respected and our lives prioritized.”

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As part of a $1.5 trillion spending plan to fund the government and rush $14 billion in urgent aid to Ukraine, Hyde will remain intact largely because Democrats in Congress simply don’t have the necessary votes to pass a funding bill without Republican support. Some conservative Democratic senators, including Tim Kaine (Va.), Bob Casey (Pa.) and Joe Manchin (W.V.), have even expressed support for Hyde.

With the Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights, and state legislatures across the country rapidly introducing abortion bans and restrictions that greatly increase costs to access care, advocates are frustrated that the federal government won’t even do the bare minimum and cover abortion. Black advocates’ sharp rebuke of Congress for enabling Hyde is all the more powerful considering not quite two years ago, Democrats were enthusiastically thanking Black women voters for their critical role in voting out Trump and installing a narrow Democratic majority in the Senate.

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As Howell points out, Congressional inaction on abortion access at such a high-stakes time carries especially devastating harm for people of color, and especially Black women. Restrictions on Medicaid coverage of abortion can force an estimated one in four low-income pregnant people seeking the health service to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, often pushing them deeper into poverty and making them more vulnerable to domestic violence. Black women and other women of color are significantly more likely than white women to be covered by Medicaid.

The inclusion of Hyde in the spending bill also comes as over 1,000 people who have had abortions on Thursday shared a historic open letter to President Biden, imploring Biden to take more urgent action—or really, any action at all—to save abortion rights as they hang in the balance. The president has notably yet to even say the word “abortion,” even as Texas has spent the past six months in a post-Roe world due to its near-total abortion ban. Roe technically remains in place, but the Hyde Amendment widens the already nearly insurmountable gap between the legal right to abortion and access to it.

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And while contraception isn’t an alternative for abortion, the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association and Planned Parenthood have both expressed frustration that funding for Title X, a federal grant program dedicated to providing low-cost family planning services to low-income people, remains flat in the spending bill, too.

“With the constitutional right to an abortion hanging in the balance, this bill’s failure to make greater investments to expand access to family planning in the U.S. and around the world is inexcusable,” Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill said in a statement on the spending bill. McGill also accused Congress members of using pregnant people’s health and rights as a political “bargaining chip.”

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In response to Congress’ failure to end Hyde, as well as lack of meaningful action from the federal government to protect reproductive rights, in general, advocates are reminding lawmakers what they owe to their constituents and voters—and in particular, women of color, pregnant people, and those who have had abortions.