Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Hyde Amendment's Impact on Astronomers (and Go Vote!)
Poster image and data from
Today's guest blogger is Anonymous. Anonymous is a PhD student in planetary science, holds a national graduate prize fellowship, and identifies as a woman of color. She has completed undergraduate and masters-level degrees at top-tier institutions and is looking forward to a long and rewarding career in STEM.

Note: Although we moderate comments on this blog, due to the personal nature of this post we have decided to remove the opportunity to comment.

This summer, I learned firsthand the consequences of an under-considered policy that affects all Americans in astrophysical sciences capable of becoming pregnant: the Hyde Amendment. It’s a policy that the Republican ticket would only strengthen and one that Hillary Clinton has already promised to instead overturn if elected President.

At the start of the summer, my partner moved in and despite our best efforts to the contrary, I became pregnant.

It took a while for me to realize I was pregnant. I’m a part of a research team working on a large space grant and we had our penultimate grant progress meeting quickly approaching. I thought the work stress was both making me get a terrible cold and pushing the arrival of my period. I just really didn’t think I could have become pregnant and, until then, I never knew how much the first trimester can feel like having the flu.

Ten days before the grant progress meeting, realizing I was smelling things my weak nose had never before smelt, it finally occurred to me to wonder if I were pregnant. Immediately after the stick’s “+” sign lit up, I called the local women’s health center naively hoping I could schedule an abortion for that very afternoon -- after all, when a friend of mine once drunkenly crashed his bike into the curb on Friday, he was able to get his front teeth replaced Saturday morning. It seemed to me that in pretty much all medical emergencies getting an appointment within 24 hours would be standard.

Of course, because there are ample male politicians who fear women behaving similarly to men and rely on forced gender roles to feel masculine, there are strict abortion laws around the country and abortion is not considered an immediate medical necessity (think about how these people consider IVF vs abortion). This forces Americans with unwanted pregnancies living in such restrictive states to fly to more progressive states (like the one I live in) to be treated. Thus, having an abortion on the same day was out of the question; I’d have to wait a week.

During that week I felt like Dr. Elizabeth Shaw from the movie Prometheus and for the first time really understood the emotions that could drive a person to stick a clothes hanger in their body. I have no desire to become a parent while finishing my PhD and even if I did, my uterus has congenital medical conditions that make it almost certain any pregnancy I pursue will only lead to a late-term miscarriage -- the very sort of miscarriage that Mike Pence has had women of my skin hue imprisoned for in Indiana.

My appointment was set for the Friday before my Monday grant progress meeting. The woman scheduling my appointment told me I should budget at least 5 hours at the clinic and, for security reasons, no electronics would be allowed inside the clinic (goodbye laptop and research work!). Because I was early in the first trimester, she told me to prepare for having a medication abortion -- I would need to totally clear out my Saturday schedule and plan on spending the day on painkillers and anti-nausea meds while alternating between the bed and the toilet.

The real surprise for me came towards the end of the call. “What is your insurance? Mmhmm, ok, you should be prepared for them to not cover this procedure.” Because my health insurance plan receives federal funds, the Hyde Amendment prevents it from covering an abortion unless I can prove “continuing the pregnancy will endanger [my] life.” Luckily, my partner and I were in a secure financial situation so we could weather the immediate costs and, with the help of the clinic, I was also able to prove the medical treatment had been a necessity by filing a claim after the abortion (and grant progress meeting). Two months later, I was reimbursed $366 out of the $489 cost.

Most people think of the Hyde Amendment as just hurting low-income women (of color) on Medicaid or women refugees (of color) dependent on USAID. These women obviously need this basic coverage, and who knows, perhaps the coverage could enable them to pursue educational opportunities that’d lead to an illustrious career in astrophysical sciences.

However, what most people overlook, is that the Hyde Amendment doesn’t just hurt these easy-for-society-to-ignore women. It hurts ALL people capable of becoming pregnant whose health insurance is part of a federal plan. I could be the director of NASA and my health insurance still would not cover one of the simplest, safest medical procedures there is. And if I was working at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, besides not having my health insurance cover the procedure, I would have to wait 20+ days for the procedure -- a length of time any busy scientist would agree is unacceptable. This lack of coverage furthers the gender pay gap since it forces people to use up more of their income for basic (but gendered) medical treatment and it also exacerbates other gender gaps at work as these people lose more work time to take care of basic health needs.

The presidential election isn’t the only vote that matters for this issue -- in fact the outrage over recently much discussed “locker room talk” just shows how important it is to vote down the entire ballot against candidates who have felt entitled to control and belittle the lives of women, especially women of color and queer women.

Being able to sit at the table, to lean in, and speak up depends on being a respected, autonomous person. Being respected and considered autonomous in the eyes of the law is the first step in fully being a respected, autonomous person. Grab that respect and autonomy for yourself by voting. Double check that you are registered, double check where to vote. Then, go vote.