Abortion on the taxpayers’ dime?
House Democrats put the Hyde Amendment on the chopping block
On Thursday, the House Committee on Appropriations held heated debates over the removal of the Hyde Amendment from the 2022 fiscal plan. The amendment bans government-funded abortions on Medicaid, except in cases of rape and incest. Democrats called the policy racist because taxpayer funding would disproportionately help women of color obtain abortions. Republicans insisted the government should not force taxpayers to fund abortions.
Committee vice–ranking member Tom Cole, R-Okla., introduced an amendment to return Hyde to the plan: “I will always come down firmly on the side of protecting and saving the lives of unborn children as well as defending the conscience rights of American taxpayers.” The committee voted against reinstating Hyde, and the fiscal plan heads to the Senate for approval. Family Research Council director of federal affairs Connor Semelsberger said he’s confident the Democrats cannot garner enough support to pass the budget in the Senate without Hyde, but pro-abortion pressure is mounting in the Biden administration.
The Hyde Amendment dates back to 1976 when the House first approved it, and the Senate has renewed it every year. The Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List estimates the Hyde Amendment has prevented at least 2 million abortions. During his 36-year congressional career, President Joe Biden supported the amendment but now calls for its removal.
Even if the budget passes the full House, Senate approval seems unlikely without Hyde. The bill requires 60 Senate votes, so Democratic supporters of the budget must convince not only their entire party but also Republicans who have upheld the amendment for 45 years. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who is on the Senate Appropriations Committee, has publicly supported the Hyde Amendment. Dan Green, the national communications director for Democrats for Life of America, said Manchin officially and personally informed the group he would do whatever it takes to keep Hyde.
Party polarization and lobbying expenses factor into the fight. The pro-life lobby donated more than $6 million in 2020, with the SBA List and National Right to Life as the top contributors. More Republicans have become strongly pro-life since Hyde began, and the Democratic Party has moved strongly in favor of abortion. The pro-abortion lobby poured over $9.5 million into 2020 Democratic campaigns. Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America hold top donor positions.
A 2016 Politico/Harvard poll showed nearly 60 percent of voters oppose Medicaid-funded abortions. Semelsberger said the push to repeal Hyde demonstrates the Democratic Party’s radicalization on the issue: “The far left is moving way out of step with the public.”
When the Biden administration released initial plans for a 2022 budget without Hyde, Planned Parenthood CEO Alexis McGill Johnson praised efforts to remove a “racist and sexist” policy. Johnson called on Congress to repeal not only Hyde but also riders such as the Helms and Weldon amendments. The Weldon Amendment allows healthcare providers and practitioners to abstain from performing or insuring abortions if the practice violates personal convictions. The Helms Amendment restricts the use of federal funds for international abortions. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., former chief of obstetric anesthesiology at Johns Hopkins, defended the Weldon Amendment as essential for preserving the First Amendment rights of healthcare workers.
During the debate, several Democrats said the Hyde Amendment unfairly targets low-income women of color by refusing coverage for abortions, which they called a necessary healthcare service. Committee member Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., challenged this argument: “We’re not debating abortion, we’re talking about refusing to make taxpayers pay for it.”
Green, from Democrats for Life, recalls a meeting of pro-lifers with former Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez, who told those assembled, “It’s fine if you guys are pro-life, but don’t ever vote that way.” Green said: “It’s one of those political issues that is really a human rights issue. But the biggest roadblock for pro-life Democrats is getting recognition within their own party.”
The push to remove Hyde marks a significant shift for Biden. In 1981, he sponsored an amendment that prohibits international funding for biomedical abortion research. Biden voted multiple times to approve pro-life measures and also voted twice to remove the rape and incest clauses from the Hyde Amendment. During his presidential campaign in 2019, he reversed his position, announcing he could no longer support policies that do not enforce healthcare as a right.
Green called the Biden administration the most pro-choice one in history: “He seems to be someone who does everything at the most politically expedient time.” Biden, a practicing Catholic, has said he is personally against abortion but does not want the government to enforce his personal belief. Catholic leadership has criticized Biden’s pro-abortion policies. In June, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved creating a reprimand for pro-abortion Catholic politicians—including Biden—and is considering recommending withholding communion from them.
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