Recently, Congress passed legislation to make the Hyde Amendment permanent. This would make the discriminatory policy that denies abortion coverage to people enrolled in Medicaid into law. First passed in an annual budget bill 40 years ago, Hyde has spread like a disease. Abortion coverage is banned for military service members and their families, federal employees, immigrants and more. These bans also affect Peace Corps volunteers — something I was dismayed to learn when, as a Peace Corps volunteer, I became pregnant.

I happily served in Togo in West Africa for two years. During my service as a cultural ambassador of sorts, I faced amoebas, parasites and malaria as I worked on food security and women’s rights issues. While challenging, this wasn’t the hardest part.

The hardest part came when I returned home, found out I was pregnant and also that, despite health insurance coverage being one of the few benefits provided to volunteers, I was denied coverage for an abortion.

I was 23 years old, had no job lined up, and after two years out of the country, the only money I had was my small Peace Corps stipend. Instead of using it to resettle in the United States, I spent one-fourth of it to pay for an abortion and travel expenses for my appointment.

Reflecting on the recent anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I am grateful I had an abortion. I knew I would not be able to raise a child on less than $3,000 with no job prospects and a weakened immune system.

It does not define who I am, and I feel no regret of having an abortion, but I regret that this is not something everyone can access. Even though I was able to get the abortion I needed, it was a financial burden that shed light on the inequality experienced by women and transgender people in need of affordable, safe reproductive health care.

That’s why I joined the New Orleans Abortion Fund while living in New Orleans — a local organization providing financial assistance to clients unable to afford the full cost of an abortion. My commitment to NOAF means I continue to volunteer remotely while completing my studies at Vermont Law School. Our work in Louisiana is of extreme importance for low-income residents, and others throughout the Deep South.

These federal abortion policies were not established to protect women, but to prevent us from making our own decisions. Right now, we’re facing a president who has repeatedly promised to overturn Roe v. Wade.

It’s up to us — those of us who’ve struggled to make ends meet, and anyone who shares our moral outrage at politicians interfering with our decisions. The future is ours to fight for.

Whitney Shields

law student

Bethel, Vermont