Abortion still devastates the African-American community at an alarming and disproportionate rate, but black pro-life activists are fighting for lives
As wide-eyed children tore into stockings and presents under tinsel-laden trees on Christmas Day in 1977, The New York Times lamented an unwelcome gift for some women with little money: children.
It had been over a year since the U.S. House passed the Hyde Amendment—a spending prohibition banning federal funding for most abortions. Medicaid funds had paid for some 300,000 abortions a year since Roe v. Wade forced states to legalize abortion in 1973.
Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., wanted to stop it.
During a funding debate, Hyde told his colleagues: “I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion: a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately the only vehicle available is the Medicaid bill.”
A year after the Hyde Amendment’s passage, the Times grieved the “severe hardships” of women who couldn’t afford abortions. The paper’s Christmas Day article said many mothers were “forced to beg or borrow the price of the operation … while others are simply resigned to keeping their unwanted children.”
Many of those “unwanted children” are now nearly 40 years old, as the Hyde Amendment approaches its 40th anniversary on Sept. 30. Congress has attached some form of the amendment to spending bills every year since 1976, and conservative estimates say the provision has saved nearly 1.1 million lives.
IN THE BIBLE, 40-year timespans carry significance: The Israelites crossed into the Promised Land after four decades of wandering in the wilderness. Even as they crossed the Jordan River, God’s people still faced dangers, hardships, and giants in the land. Still, this was a new generation with a new opportunity to be faithful. God told their new leader, Joshua, to “only be strong and very courageous.”
Biblical analogies have limits, but these days there are still giants in the land. The Democratic Party, with many leaders well over 40, officially has pledged to attempt eliminating the Hyde Amendment if Hillary Clinton becomes president.
Still, a new generation seems strong and courageous. Surveys show Americans well under 40 are more pro-life than the generation that’s grown up with the fleshpots of abortion, and they long to leave the wilderness behind.
Unplanned pregnancy can feel like a wilderness to frightened young women with few resources and little outside help. So a growing group of 20-somethings is stepping up to help women and unborn children. It’s a heartening pro-life trend, even as the Hyde Amendment comes under threat, and the need for vigilance remains as great as ever.
WHEN CONGRESS PASSED Hyde’s proposal to ban federal funding for abortion in 1976, it wasn’t clear the pro-life protection would survive. A series of legal challenges intermittently delayed the ban until the Supreme Court ruled in 1980 the provision could stand. The current version offers exceptions for rape, incest, and the endangered life of the mother.
In a 5-4 ruling, the justices said Congress could distinguish between abortion and other procedures because “no other procedure involves the purposeful termination of a potential life.”
Hyde was elated. “What today’s decision really means is life for countless unborn children, just as surely as unrestricted abortion means death for them,” the congressman said. “So the true victors don’t even know about the battle, much less the victory.”
How many victors?
Estimates vary, particularly since abortion is accessible to low-income women through other routes: Seventeen states fund abortion through state Medicaid funds. Planned Parenthood—the nation’s largest performer of abortions—offers financial assistance for abortions. And some pro-abortion groups raise funds to give abortion grants to low-income women.
It’s one of the often-unchallenged narratives of abortion advocates: While pro-abortion supporters claim low-income women lack access to abortion, some 49 percent of women seeking abortions in 2014 were below poverty level, according to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute.
But the death toll could be worse: Researcher Michael New says as many as 1 out of 9 children born through the Medicaid program would have died via abortion without the protection of the Hyde Amendment. New focused on three major studies showing that when a handful of states cut Medicaid funding for abortion after the Hyde Amendment, the Medicaid birth rate went up by 12 to 17 percent.
Medicaid pays for an estimated 45 percent of U.S. childbirths, according to a recent study by George Washington University. It’s difficult to calculate precisely how many of those mothers might choose abortion if Medicaid footed the bill in all states, but New says funding abortion would likely increase the number of abortions “substantially … and they would go up the most among low-income and racial minorities.”
In New York City—where the state funds abortions through Medicaid—more black babies died in abortions than were born alive in 2013.
Still, some Democrats want more funding for abortion-on-demand. This summer, for the first time in its history, the Democratic Party’s platform called for repealing the Hyde Amendment. It also pledged to fight Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, and it called such reproductive healthcare and abortion “core to women’s, men’s, and young people’s health and wellbeing.”
The platform echoed the battle cry of its nominee, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who called for repealing the Hyde Amendment last January and launched her general election campaign at a Planned Parenthood event in June. Earlier this year, she told a reporter “the unborn person doesn’t have constitutional rights.”
The question: Could Clinton succeed in eliminating Hyde if she’s elected?
It’s hard to predict, but she’d need a majority in the House and Senate to back the idea and vote on spending bills with the Hyde Amendment removed. That’s all-but-impossible with the current House makeup, but if Democrats win majorities this fall, they could bow to pressure and ditch a provision that’s gained bipartisan approval for four decades.
Anna Paprocki, an attorney with Americans United for Life, says the vulnerability of the Hyde Amendment (with its need for annual approval) points to the necessity for a more permanent solution. Her group—and other pro-life organizations—have pushed for the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. The legislation would codify Congress’ commitment to banning federal funds for abortion.
Paprocki calls the Democratic Party’s push for repealing Hyde “an extreme, radical departure from what the American people want.” Indeed, a Marist poll in January showed 68 percent of respondents oppose taxpayer funding for abortion. The group Democrats for Life—which estimates 21 million pro-life Democrats in the United States—called its own party’s platform “a flat-out betrayal of millions of Democrats.”
For Planned Parenthood, the betrayal would be a boon. The abortion behemoth already receives $500 million in federal funding each year. If Medicaid recipients could use federal funds for abortions, Planned Parenthood could cash in on the results, and potentially increase its revenue by millions.
And that’s despite a string of controversies, including a series of undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood officials callously discussing transactions for aborted baby parts and a federal audit that reported Planned Parenthood apparently had improperly filed hundreds of thousands of abortion-related claims with Medicaid in New York.
But pro-abortion groups remain undeterred. The American Civil Liberties Union makes a chilling argument: Since raising children is expensive, it costs the federal government more to help provide for needy children than to eliminate them.
ELIMINATING CHILDREN is a preposterous scandal for any nation, but it’s also a personal insult for the children deemed worthy of elimination.
For Ryan Bomberger, it’s a personal dynamic he faces in public.
The founder of pro-life group The Radiance Foundation was born in 1971, but he could have been one of the exceptions to the Hyde Amendment: He was conceived when his birth mother was raped. Bomberger’s birth mom instead gave her son life and a family through adoption.
These days, Bomberger laments the children killed through abortion, including those considered exceptions: “I’m the 1 percent that’s used 100 percent of the time to justify abortion.”
He thinks the Hyde Amendment shouldn’t include exceptions that “devalue the lives of those who had nothing to do with the criminal act of rape.” The African-American husband and homeschooling father of four also laments how the repeal of Hyde would affect minority communities: “If the black community already has the highest abortion rates, how many more abortions are needed in the black community?”
Bomberger says minority communities should be especially on guard against the proposal to repeal Hyde, and consider the message it sends: “This is where we’re going: The politically powerful get to decide who is worthy of life and who isn’t. And they are sending the message loud and clear that those who aren’t worthy of life are minorities and those in the lower economic strata.”
It’s personal for Bomberger for another reason as well: Two of his four children are adopted. His youngest adopted son, 5-year-old Justice, was born on the Medicaid program. Bomberger says Justice’s birth mother wasn't abortion-minded, but he thinks she could have been pressured to abort him if Medicaid had offered to pay. He cringes at the thought.
If Cecile Richards, the 59-year-old president of Planned Parenthood, and Hillary Clinton, the 68-year-old Democratic presidential nominee, want to sway 20-somethings using a militant pro-abortion message, they have a steep hill to climb.
While some millennials are certainly pro-abortion, a significant percentage do not embrace abortion-on-demand. The shift began in the early 2000s, and many advocates connect pro-life successes with improved ultrasound technology that showed babies in the womb in all their wonder.
By 2008, a series of polls found Americans under 30 were more likely than the general population to say abortion should be illegal or strictly limited. In 2010, a Gallup poll showed 18- to 29-year-olds were more pro-life than 30- to 49-year-olds and 50- to 64-year-olds.
If those statistics are accurate, that makes today’s millennials the most pro-life generation since Roe v. Wade and directly opposed to older voices telling them to embrace abortion.
Anja Scheib is one of those pro-life millennials. The 21-year-old senior at Mississippi State University has served with the school’s local chapter of Students for Life since she began as a freshman.
Scheib meets regularly with young women trying to figure out how they can keep babies they didn’t expect to conceive at such a young age. Scheib connects the women with a local pregnancy resource center and other resources around town to help moms find paths to parenting and staying in school.
Scheib isn’t alone: Busy students in the Mississippi group offer to baby-sit for student moms. They hold baby showers to collect items moms might need. They take them to the pregnancy resource center for ultrasounds and help them apply for Medicaid.
Scheib says most of what she does is “little things” that can make a big difference to overwhelmed moms: help them fill out forms, make a phone call, track down a car seat. In other cases, the help is more substantial: If an expectant mom has been kicked out of her home and doesn’t know where she’ll live, Scheib says she “turns to the body of Christ. … They are ready to help.”
Scheib thinks ultrasounds have had an important impact on her generation, but she also says an interest in human rights is a significant factor as well. “We’re always concerned about the little man,” she says. “And the unborn child is the little man. So are their moms.” She worries repealing the Hyde Amendment would push many of the women she helps “over the edge” to abortion, especially if a voice of authority recommended it.
The national pro-life group Students for Life has connections with 600 pro-life groups on college campuses across the country and reports a generation of pro-life young people coming up with creative ways to protest abortion and to advocate for mothers in need: Students at the University of New Mexico helped start a student-run pregnancy care center on their campus; Portland Community College connected young moms with a local mechanic willing to do oil changes for free; advocates at Louisiana State University have pressed for better access to child care on campus; and students at Troy State in Alabama are exploring opening a volunteer-run child care center that would be free for students.
Still, some of the most critical help remains the most personal.
When Claire Crawford found out she was expecting a baby at age 17, she was overwhelmed and couldn’t imagine how she’d afford raising a child. In desperation, she considered asking her father for money for an abortion. “I felt hopeless and alone,” she says.
She found a lifeline with Scheib: The pair attended the same high school, and Crawford saw on social media that Scheib was pro-life. Someone told Crawford pro-life people could help her. Crawford sent a message: “I don’t know if you remember me from high school. … But I’m pregnant and someone told me you could help me.”
Scheib took Crawford to the local pregnancy care center, and the young mom saw her unborn son on the screen. “I didn’t know he would look like a baby,” she says. “When I saw the heartbeat, I thought—OK, I gotta figure this out.” She says Scheib and other pro-life students helped her prepare to parent and stay in school. Now she helps moms in similar situations.
Crawford says if Medicaid had offered to pay for an abortion, it would have been tempting to take it. A year after her son Taylan’s birth, she’s thankful she didn’t: “I don’t know what I would do without him,” she says. “That’s my baby—you know?”
Other young women share similar stories. Shurnita Shope, a senior at Mississippi State, says she wasn’t sure she wanted to keep her baby when she learned she was pregnant last year: “I was confused and depressed.” If a Medicaid payment had been an option, she said, it would have been tempting.
After an ultrasound at the local pregnancy center, and talking with others from Students for Life, she says, “I realized I wasn’t alone.” Instead of dampening her school career, as some pro-abortion advocates have warned, Shope says she got the best grades of her college career while carrying her son Adrean. It’s not easy, but it’s motivating, she says: “I’m not just doing it for me.”
OTHER PRO-LIFE GROUPS—including secular ones—are working to protect the Hyde Amendment. The group Secular Pro-Life has launched the “Hello Hyde” project to collect photos of adults or babies born on the Medicaid program to show the kinds of people worthy of life, despite low incomes or other challenging circumstances.
Kelsey Hazzard, the group’s founder, is an atheist, but says from the time she understood what an abortion was, she thought, “Well, that’s wrong.” Hazzard says abortion is a human rights issue, and children in the womb should be protected: “Human rights aren’t earned.”
Gina Mallica works with the group, but also attends a Methodist church. She thinks it’s important for Christians to work with all kinds of pro-life advocates. Her own parents used Medicaid for her birth after they fled to the United States from Communist Cuba in the 1980s. She said they never considered abortion, but if the Hyde Amendment wasn’t in place: “Someone could have tried to talk them into it.”
Mallica graduated from the University of Florida, and is now expecting a baby of her own with her husband. (Her family isn’t using Medicaid.) She says her child has invested her pro-life efforts with even greater meaning, and she feels deeply motivated: “The number one goal is to keep people from dying.”