The fight for Hyde
Democrats draw battle lines over taxpayer funding for abortions
An elderly black janitor in the early 1980s saved Christina Bennett’s life. Her mother was single, pregnant, under pressure, and scheduled for an abortion at Mount Sinai Hospital in Hartford, Conn. The janitor asked, “Do you want to have your baby?” Later, at the hospital, the abortionist reminded her that she had already paid for the abortion and demanded she stay in the room, but Bennett’s mother insisted on keeping her baby.
On Tuesday, Bennett testified in a virtual hearing before a House appropriations subcommittee in favor of upholding the Hyde Amendment, a budget rider that prevents federal taxpayer dollars from directly funding abortions. “My mother wanted me even though she paid for an abortion,” said Bennett, now a communications director with the Family Institute of Connecticut. “My mother represents women who have been coerced into an abortion and received substandard care from medical professionals.”
Bennett and other pro-lifers say government funding for abortion would create a financial incentive for women to terminate their pregnancies. They also argue that pro-life taxpayers should not be forced to pay for abortions. The Hyde Amendment prevents both of those things. But after more than 40 years of bipartisan support, pro-abortion groups now decry the policy as racist and old-fashioned. Tuesday’s hearing represents a significant shift: The liberal members of the committee openly called for the repeal of the amendment.
“While the Labor-[Health and Human Services]-Education bill has carried the Hyde Amendment every year since 1976, this is the last year,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the committee’s new chairwoman, in the opening remarks. Three pro-abortion witnesses echoed DeLauro’s words, describing abortion as healthcare and saying the restriction prevents marginalized women from receiving care. Herminia Palacio, president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute, claimed the Hyde Amendment “intentionally and unjustly” imposes burdens on minority and low-income women.
But Bennett, an African American woman from Connecticut, disagreed. She called it “irresponsible and unjust” for the federal government to encourage women to kill their offspring.
“What message does it send to a woman who lives in a state where Medicaid won’t cover her yearly dental exam, but she can get a free abortion?” she asked. “Abortion on demand is a Band-Aid to the wound of economic and health disparities that cause women to seek abortion.”
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., countered the accusations of racism, noting statistics show abortion disproportionately affects minority communities. African American families make up only about 13 percent of the U.S. population, but black mothers account for 38 percent of all documented U.S. abortions. “Supporters of abortion should also question whether the promotion of abortion is itself structurally racist,” he said. “Ending the Hyde amendment and providing state-funded abortion to low-income women will mean more black lives lost.”
Not enough time remains for Congress to make the changes this year, but Connor Semelsberger, legislative assistant for the Family Research Council, said the hearing set a new precedent for the next Congress to follow. Lawmakers haven’t debated the Hyde Amendment since almost 30 years ago. It has boasted bipartisan consensus for decades. Until recently, even President-elect Joe Biden supported it. But now that the future administration has voiced support for scrapping Hyde, Democrats see a chance to expand taxpayer funding for abortion.
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