Nearly half a century after the passage of the Hyde Amendment, House Democrats have set their sights on removing the long-standing ban on taxpayer funding of abortions from government funding bills as early as next year.
The debate about repealing the Hyde Amendment, first passed in 1976, has loomed large in the 2020 presidential election. While Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden had long supported the Hyde Amendment, he reversed his support for the ban on taxpayer-funded abortions shortly after announcing his presidential bid last year.
Ilyse Hogue, the president of the pro-abortion organization NARAL Pro-Choice America, praised the candidate’s evolution on the Hyde Amendment as “deeply compassionate.”
Biden’s position change reflects the position of many Democratic leaders in Congress and the Democratic Party's platform that calls for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment.
The Hyde Amendment is renewed annually by Congress as a stipulation in funding bills for the Department of Health and Human Services, which are crafted by the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., chairs that subcommittee.
The Los Angeles Times reported Friday that DeLauro, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., “told a small group of lawmakers last month that they would not add the prohibition to any government funding bill beginning next year.”
While DeLauro indicated a desire to remove the Hyde Amendment from an HHS spending bill this year, she abandoned that effort after recognizing that the Republican-led Senate would not agree to a bill that did not include the ban on taxpayer-funded abortions.
The discussion about the repeal of the Hyde Amendment comes as Democrats are eyeing complete control of the federal government for the first time in 10 years. Democrats already control the House of Representatives and they hope to gain control of the Senate and White House following the elections in November.
Because the Hyde Amendment prevents Medicaid from covering abortions, top House Democrats are portraying the debate about the taxpayer funding of abortions as a race and class issue. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., a close ally of Pelosi, told The Los Angeles Times: “It’s an issue of racial justice and it’s an issue of discrimination against low-income women, women of color, (and) women who don’t have access to what middle- and upper-income women have in terms of the choice to have an abortion.”
The Democrats’ promise to repeal the Hyde Amendment would likely not come to fruition should Republicans control one or all three branches of the federal government following the election. Even if Democrats take control of the Senate, they would likely lack the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.
While Democrats have a comfortable majority in the House, they have yet to secure enough support for repealing the Hyde Amendment. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., who co-chairs the House Pro-Choice Caucus along with Lee, admitted that while more than 200 House Democrats support repealing the Hyde Amendment, support “remains short of the 218 required to pass legislation.”
As Democrats appear to be forming a consensus in favor of repealing the Hyde Amendment, public opinion polling has consistently demonstrated that a majority of Americans oppose taxpayer funding for abortions. A 2019 Marist survey found that 54% of respondents opposed “using tax dollars to pay for a woman’s abortion.” In 2017, a Marist survey found that 58% of Americans opposed taxpayer funding of abortions.